The Difference Between Sexual Assault and Illegal Sexual Contact in CO

While there are a number of specific offenses defined within Colorado sex crime laws, two of the most common offenses committed across this state are sexual assault and illegal sexual contact.

We want to focus on these two crimes today because they are not only some of the most common offenses prosecuted, they are also commonly mixed up.

Yes, sexual assault involves illegal sexual contact. However, Colorado law outlines it as a completely separate charge all on its own. Learn more about the difference between them below.

Sexual Assault According to Colorado Law

Colorado’s sex crime statute separates acts of sexual assault primarily by age and ability to consent.

Age of the Alleged Victim

When an offender is found to “knowingly inflict sexual intrusion or sexual penetration on a victim” they may be charged with sexual assault.

When the offender is 10+ years older than the victim and the victim is a minor between age 15 and 17, it is considered a Class 1 Misdemeanor. Often these charges are associated with cases of statutory rape.

Note, however, when a minor is under the age of 15 and the offender is at least 4 years older, this sexual assault charge makes a giant leap to a Class 4 felony.

Victim’s Ability to Consent

When any of the following circumstances is present, sexual assault is classified as a Class 3 felony:

  • the victim is physically helpless and has not consented
  • the actor used (or threatened) violence, death, injury, pain, or kidnapping and victim believed threats could be carried out
  • the actor threatened retaliation
  • The actor impaired the victim’s mental capacity without consent

Other Factors in Charging Sexual Assault

There are also three scenarios in which a sexual assault may be charged as a Class 2 felony: When an offender is aided or abetted; when a deadly weapon was involved; if a serious bodily injury was caused during its commission.

Illegal Sexual Contact in Colorado

According to Colorado law, the crime of illegal sexual contact is actually broader in scope than the specific charges associated with sexual assault. You may be charged in any of the following circumstances:

  • The actor knows that the victim does not consent; or
  • The victim is deemed incapable of understanding their own conduct; or
  • The victim is physically helpless; or
  • The actor has substantially impaired the victim’s power to appraise or control their own conduct without the victim knowing; or
  • The actor has supervisory or disciplinary authority over the victim and uses this position of authority to coerce the victim to submit; or
  • The actor engages in treatment or examination of a victim for purposes or in a manner substantially inconsistent with reasonable medical practices.

Any of these acts are typically charged as a Class 1 misdemeanor and subject to 6 to 24 months in jail. When force is used, the crime increases to a Class 4 felony.

Colorado’s Penalties for Sexual Assault and Illegal Sexual Contact

The punishments for both crimes range from misdemeanor level to felony level. Depending upon the circumstances surrounding your specific case, (and your Colorado sex crime attorney’s defense strategy) a conviction can lead to the following:

  • Class 1 Misdemeanor: 6-18 months in jail with a $500-$5,000 fine. If the risk of harm is present, as with sexual assault, the maximum sentence increases to 24 months in jail.
  • Class 4 Felony: 2-6 years in prison and a $2,000-$500,000 fine
  • Class 3 Felony: 4-12 years in prison and a fine of $3,000-$750,000
  • Class 2 Felony: 8-24 years in prison and up to $1 million in fines

Aside from the prison terms and financial losses, there are also social repercussions that must be taken into consideration, such as difficulty finding employment, sex offender registration, and other severe consequences.

Denver Sex Crimes Attorney

While both sexual assault and illegal sexual contact are severe crimes in Colorado and can wind up costing you jail time and significant fines, Colorado law defines them very differently.

Offenders who commit an act of illegal sexual contact have not necessarily committed a sexual assault. These are the kinds of nuances that can make all the difference in the defense and outcome of your case.


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.