September 28, 2023
In 1994, victim-advocacy groups told the state of Colorado that the current laws on domestic violence did not bring justice to victims. Colorado listened, and enacted some of the harshest domestic violence laws in the country.
The laws, which address everything from the process of arresting someone for domestic violence to mandatory sentencing, have proven to be tough on domestic violence offenders… but are they too tough?
Some criminal justice experts argue that Colorado’s laws are so harsh they end up hurting victims more than bringing them justice. Let’s explore a few different elements of these laws, and how they affect anyone who is an abuser, an alleged abuser, or a victim.
Property Damage Can Get You Arrested For Domestic Violence
If law enforcement officers witness or are called in to assess a situation that looks like domestic violence, they do not need to see two people engaged in a fistfight to make an arrest. All they need is probable cause that a crime has been committed against a person or property “as a method of coercion, control, punishment, intimidation or revenge directed against a person with whom the actor is or has been involved in an intimate relationship.”
Translation: as long as there is evidence of property damage, assault or battery, or animal abuse that could be considered a threat to an intimate partner, police officers are required to put you under arrest.
Let’s look at an example. Say a boyfriend and girlfriend get into a shouting match because the girlfriend won’t show the boyfriend her text messages. In anger, the boyfriend punches a wall, but does not assault or even touch his girlfriend. If the police are called to that situation, the boyfriend will be arrested and spend the night in jail.
That’s right. Under our laws, even a minor property damage offense can give an individual the label of being a domestic violence offender. That individual then has to go through all of the mandatory treatment and monitoring that all domestic violence offenders must go through, regardless of the actual charge or specific circumstances.
Not only is this unfair in general, these laws open the doors to unnecessary arrests, false accusations, and miscommunication about who is the victim and who is the abuser. This is a key argument used by criminal defense experts who believe that Colorado’s domestic violence laws end up hurting victims. In these types of situations, victims can easily be framed as abusers.
A Night in Jail and a Protection Order Are Required
During this hearing, a mandatory, albeit temporary, protection order will be placed upon you in court. Under this protection order, you will not be able to have contact with or be around the alleged victim for a minimum of seven days.
Victims Cannot Drop Charges against an Abuser
When domestic violence charges are made, they are made by the state against the abuser. Whether or not a victim wants to drop the charges or not is irrelevant – the hearing and possible conviction will still go through.
Ostensibly, the idea behind this is to protect victims who might otherwise be afraid to stand up to their abusers. To make sure that intimidation plays no part in whether someone is tried for their alleged crimes.
But what about situations like the one described above between the boyfriend and girlfriend where she believes the officers overreacted? Or instances where the alleged victim actually admits that they were lying?
Under our laws, it doesn’t matter. The case must go forward.
These are “Victims’ Rights Cases”
Since Colorado considers domestic violence cases “Victims’ Rights Cases,” victims have a lot of other rights that can greatly affect the outcome of the case. Victims have the right to do the following:
- Consult with the District Attorney before offers are made
- Consult with the District Attorney before bond is posted or addressed
- Right to speak at sentencing
- Right to be notified when incarcerated defendant is set to be released
That’s a lot of power for an alleged victim to have. And while the reasoning behind the law is understandable, it can – and likely does – lead to abuse of a different kind.
Mandatory Treatment and Sentencing
While not considered “punishment” under Colorado law, one of the elements of domestic violence sentencing includes mandatory counseling. Domestic violence offenders are required to undergo a 36-week course on domestic violence counseling, and additional treatments that address alcohol or anger management may also be required.
These sessions cost money, and take up a good amount of the year. Many offenders opt to go to jail rather than complete the treatment.
Moreover, until your sentence is completed, the protection order you are issued at the time of your arrest will remain active. This includes probation and the payment of your fines. When a protection order is placed on you, you may feel as though you are walking on eggshells, because there are extra charges and harsher penalties associated with violating a protection order.
Then again, you may feel like you are walking on eggshells throughout the entire process of being accused of, or charged with, domestic violence offenses. Throughout the process you will need a serious, experienced Colorado domestic violence lawyer to get your charges dropped and help you regain your freedom. Contact us today to give yourself the best chance at a positive outcome.
About the Author:
Denver-based criminal defense and DUI attorney Jacob E. Martinez is a knowledgeable and experienced litigator with a record of success providing innovative solutions to clients facing criminal charges of any severity. Mr. Martinez has been designated a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers and has been awarded both the Avvo Client’s Choice Award and Avvo Top Attorney designation, evidencing his reputation for his exemplary criminal and DUI defense work and high moral standards.