December 1, 2022
Crimes involving domestic violence are serious for everyone involved, but they can have a huge impact on the lives of those accused of this crime. Domestic violence laws in Colorado are strict and encompass a wide variety of conduct between those who have been or are currently in an intimate relationship.
Domestic violence happens more than many people may realize. The National Domestic Violence Hotline states that almost 10 million people are impacted by domestic violence in the United States each year. It can and does happen anywhere, including across communities in Colorado.
If you’re facing a crime that includes a domestic violence enhancement, then there’s a lot to understand about the law in the Centennial State. Here is a comprehensive guide to everything that is important to know about domestic violence laws in Colorado and how they can impact your life.
What Is Domestic Violence in Colorado?
The State of Colorado defines domestic violence very succinctly in its laws. It is an act of a threat of violence or violence against someone with whom the person accused of the crime had or has what is defined as an intimate relationship.
Under the law, domestic violence also encompasses acts committed against someone or even against property if its purpose was to intimidate, control, coerce, or exact revenge on someone else.
However, it’s important to note that, under Colorado law, domestic violence is not a crime all its own. It is considered a sentence enhancement or aggravating factor to another crime. If domestic violence is involved in the perpetration of another crime, then it can increase the penalty for that crime.
The above graph highlights the varying number of yearly domestic violence court cases in multiple Colorado counties between the years 2003-2012. These numbers reflect all cases/types of domestic violence.
What Is an Intimate Relationship Under Colorado Law?
For a crime to be considered for a domestic violence enhancement, it must be committed against someone who the accused has been in an intimate relationship with or is currently in a relationship with. Specifically, this includes:
- Anyone they are currently or have been married to
- Anyone they are currently or have formerly dated
- Anyone with whom they share a child
If the relationship between the accused and the victim meets these criteria, then a domestic violence enhancement can be added to underlying charges.
The following bar graph depicts the varying composition of intimate relationships in domestic violence victimizations nationwide, between 2003-2012. It is of note that current or previous boyfriends/girlfriends outnumber spouses as the majority of domestic abuse offenders.
What Types of Charges Result from Domestic Violence Incidents?
There are certain crimes in Colorado that seem to consistently have domestic violence enhancements added to them. These include:
- Sexual Assault
- Elder abuse
- Child abuse
- Sexual contact
- Violating a restraining order
- False imprisonment
It is important to note, however, that a domestic violence enhancement can be added to any criminal charge or violation of a municipal ordinance, so that includes property crimes or even crimes committed against animals.
How Do the Police Handle Colorado Domestic Violence?
The ways the laws are written surrounding domestic violence in Colorado impact how the police treat these cases, too – something else that is vital to understand.
Colorado is a mandatory arrest state for domestic violence. If the police arrive at the scene of a domestic disturbance, they will assess what is going on and, if they determine that there’s probable cause to suspect domestic violence, they must arrest one of the people involved in the incident. They take into account any of these factors when determining if they should make an arrest:
- If there have been any prior domestic violence complaints
- If there are injuries inflicted on either party
- If there is a likelihood for more injuries to occur
- Whether or not someone in the situation acted in self-defense
The reason behind mandatory arrests is that it removes one person from a potentially dangerous or explosive situation. The goal is to help prevent further injury or damage. Separating the parties involved is seen by the law as a way to eliminate the potential for threats and abuse, allowing intimate partners to get some space away from one another and cool down.
While it is easy to understand why this is part of domestic violence protocol for police in Colorado, it does have the impact of placing one party involved into the criminal justice system, and they can face criminal charges that can impact the rest of their lives.
Can The Victim Drop the Charges?
In Colorado, victims in domestic violence cases are not able to have the charges against the other person dropped. If they want to recant their allegations of abuse, it is viewed very suspiciously. The court assumes that a victim may have family pressuring them to do so, or the defendant needs to be out of jail to help support the family.
The Colorado courts take domestic violence very seriously and want to help keep people safe. To that end, judges usually only dismiss these cases if the prosecutor claims there is not enough evidence to properly prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If a victim recants their statement, then that very well may lead to the dropping of charges due to lack of evidence. However, chances are that the prosecution has other evidence to prove their case beyond simply the victim’s statement.
What Are the Penalties for Colorado Domestic Violence?
As previously mentioned, domestic violence is not a crime all on its own but rather an enhancement that can be added to the sentence of another crime. Therefore, there aren’t any strict parameters for sentencing in domestic violence cases, since the underlying charge has a big impact on the outcome.
If a person is found guilty of a crime, and there is a domestic violence enhancement, then they will be sentenced for the underlying charge and required to complete a treatment evaluation for domestic violence, plus a treatment program.
The court can also take into account:
Evaluation Prior to Sentencing
It’s not uncommon for the court to insist that a domestic violence evaluation take place before the sentencing hearing if it is believed that doing so can help determine the most appropriate sentence.
Any person is labeled a repeat offended if they have three or more prior convictions on their criminal record for crimes with a domestic violence enhancement. Status as a repeat offender will mean increased penalties going forward. Prosecutors can petition the court to have someone deemed a habitual domestic violence offender, too, which carries with it penalties for a Class 5 felony – up to four years in prison.
What About Protective Orders?
When a person is charged with a crime involving domestic violence, then that triggers the court to file a mandatory protection order against them on behalf of the victim. When that order is active, the person accused of domestic violence may not contact the victim or drink any type of alcohol. Doing so can cause the defendant to be in violation of the order.
What Can Happen If a Protective Order is Violated?
If a protective order is violated, then that is a crime by itself – separate from the charges stemming from the domestic violence crime. Violation of a protective order is a Class 2 misdemeanor, which can send the violator to jail for up to one year and require them to pay a fine of as much as $250.
How Fast Are Domestic Violence Cases Handled in Court?
In Colorado, cases involving domestic violence are fast-tracked. That means the police will fill out their report the same day they make the arrest for charges related to domestic violence. The defendant will be required to enter their plea during the first court hearing related to the incident.
This differs from cases that don’t feature domestic violence allegations, since usually several weeks pass between when a person is arrested and when they are made to enter their initial plea. The reason the state fast-tracks these cases is to get treatment for the perpetrator and to help protect the victims in the community.
What Are the Non-Criminal Consequences of Domestic Violence?
If you are found guilty of a crime with a domestic violence enhancement, then you face jail or prison time as well as fines. But those aren’t the only consequences to understand.
If you have a criminal record that includes domestic violence, then it can make it more challenging to find employment or housing in the future. If you have a professional license, that is also in jeopardy. You can lose the right to possess ammunition as well as firearms, and it can be more difficult to get loans. But perhaps the biggest consequence is that you can lose custody of your children and not be able to see them in an unsupervised capacity.
Possible Defenses If You’re Charged with a Crime of Domestic Violence
Every case is different, but working with an experienced attorney can help to formulate the best defense based on the facts in your case. However, there are some common defenses used against charges involving domestic violence that are helpful to know, such as:
If the incident from which your domestic violence enhancement charges stem had you acting in self-defense, then this needs to be brought to the attention of your attorney. Self-defense means that you acted in such a way as to only protect yourself from someone else’s actions.
It is the job of your attorney to gather the evidence to support this line of defense and present it to the court. If they can show that the other person involved in the incident was acting in a way toward you that was meant to inflict harm, and it was reasonable to take the actions you did, then this will make a formidable defense in the courtroom.
The Allegations are False
While domestic violence is a serious problem, it sometimes can be used by unscrupulous people as a tool to get back at another person or to gain an advantage over them. If this happened in your case, then your attorney needs to be aware of this, so they can gather evidence to support your claim. If you can back up your version of events in court, then this is a good defense.
Misconduct by the Police
While police work their hardest to keep communities safe and ensure the rights of everyone, misconduct does occur on behalf of the police sometimes. When this happens, it makes for an effective defense against charges related to domestic violence.
Police records can sometimes help to show that your rights were somehow violated during the process. If it is found that police misconduct occurred, then it may lead to the charges against you being dropped. That’s why you should try to remember and share with your attorney what happened after you were taken into custody.
Burden of Proof
In any Colorado criminal matter, the prosecution must prove a case against you in court. Your job, and the job of your attorney, is to cast reasonable doubt on the case they put forward, which can be done in a variety of ways.
Alibis are great tools to help cast doubt on the case against you, especially if you have an alibi for the incident that can back up your version of events, or there is some sort of other eyewitness testimony. Either of these should be presented in court. Casting doubt with the assertion that you acted in self-defense or that the incident was simply an accident are also strategies to employ in the courtroom.
You are entitled to a robust defense, so work with your attorney to find the best one for your case.
Domestic Violence: Conclusions
In Colorado, domestic violence is taken very seriously by the law. If you are being accused of actions that include domestic violence, then you must have an experienced attorney on your side to help you understand not only the charges against you but also your rights under the law.
You don’t have to face these types of allegations alone – and you shouldn’t give up hope that the charges against you are a done deal. Many people face challenges in the legal system each day but go on to live happy, productive lives free from the accusations they once faced.
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 recognized by countless legal organizations for his exemplary defense work, including Avvo, Best DWI Attorneys, Expertise, Lawyers of Distinction, The National Trial Lawyers, and others. He was also named one of the 10 Best in Client Satisfaction in Colorado by the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys for 2020, and is Lead Counsel rated.