Colorado assault laws
(18-3-202, 18-3-203 and 18-3-204 C.R.S.)

man making fist and threatening face

What is assault?

Assault is the act of knowingly, recklessly or intentionally causing bodily injury to another person. Assault can be in the first, second or third degree.

In Colorado the degree of assault depends on:

  • Your intent,
  • Whether you used a deadly weapon,
  • The severity of the injury or risk, and
  • Whether the victim was, at the time of the offense, performing services as a:
    • peace officer, 
    • firefighter, 
    • emergency medical service provider,
    • judge, or 
    • employee of a detention facility where you have been lawfully detained.

To help you better understand the penalties and consequences of an assault conviction, our Colorado criminal defense lawyers discuss the following, below:

two young men on street in knife fight

1. Degrees of assault in Colorado

1.1. First degree assault -- 18-3-202 C.R.S.

In Colorado, you commit the crime of assault in the first degree when: 

  • You intend to -- and do -- cause serious bodily injury to another person by means of a deadly weapon;
  • You intend to -- and do -- disfigure another person seriously and permanently;
  • You intend to -- and do -- destroy, amputate, or disable permanently a member or organ of another person's body;
  • Under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life, you knowingly engage in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to another person, and thereby cause serious bodily injury to someone; or
  • With intent to cause serious bodily injury, you threaten with a deadly weapon a public official who you know is engaged in the performance of his or her duties. Public officials protected by this law include:
    • peace officers (police, sheriff's deputies, etc.), 
    • firefighters, 
    • emergency medical service providers,
    • judges, and
    • prison and juvenile detention workers (if you are lawfully confined or in custody as a result of being charged with or convicted of a crime). 

1.2. Second degree assault -- 18-3-203 C.R.S.

There are many ways in which assault can be in the second degree in Colorado.

You commit Colorado assault in the second degree if: 

  • You intend to – and do -- cause serious bodily injury to another person (without a deadly weapon);
  • You intend to – and do -- cause bodily injury to another person;
  • You threaten any of the officials listed above with intent to cause serious bodily injury and to prevent them from performing a lawful duty;
  • While intending to prevent someone you know to be an official from performing a lawful duty, you intentionally cause bodily injury to any person;
  • You recklessly cause serious bodily injury to another person by means of a deadly weapon; 
  • You intentionally drug another person without his or her consent for other than lawful medical or therapeutic treatment;
  • While lawfully confined or in custody, you knowingly and violently apply physical force against one of the above officials while that person is engaged in the performance of his or her duties;
  • While lawfully confined in a detention facility, you cause someone working in the facility to come into contact with a bodily fluid and your intent is to infect, injure, harm, harass, annoy, threaten, or alarm that person; or
  • With intent to infect, injure, or harm another person you know, or reasonably should know, is engaged in the performance of his or her duties as a peace officer, a firefighter, an emergency medical care provider, or an emergency medical service provider, you cause such person to come into contact with a bodily fluid or toxic material. 

1.3. Third degree assault -- 18-3-204 C.R.S.

You commit Colorado assault in the third degree when:

  • With criminal negligence, you knowingly or recklessly cause bodily injury to another person by means of a deadly weapon; or
  • With intent to harass, annoy, threaten, or alarm someone you know, or reasonably should know, is a peace officer, firefighter, or emergency medical care provider, you cause that person to come into contact with bodily fluids or toxic substances.
girl holding baseball bat in menacing fashion

2. Legal definitions

2.1. Deadly weapon

“Deadly weapon” means:

  • A firearm, whether loaded or unloaded; or
  • A knife, bludgeon, or any other weapon, device, instrument, material, or substance, whether animate or inanimate, that, in the manner it is used or intended to be used, is capable of producing death or serious bodily injury.1

2.2. Firearm

“Firearm” means any handgun, automatic, revolver, pistol, rifle, shotgun, or other instrument or device capable or intended to be capable of discharging, cartridges, or other explosive charges.2

2.3. Bodily fluid and toxic material

“Bodily fluid” and “toxic material” include blood, seminal fluid, urine, feces, saliva, mucus, vomit, or any toxic, caustic, or hazardous material. Wrongful means of causing someone to come into contact with such a fluid include (but are not limited to) throwing, tossing, or expelling such fluid or material.3

2.4. Bodily injury

“Bodily injury” means physical pain, illness, or any impairment of physical or mental condition.4

2.5. Serious bodily injury

“Serious bodily injury” means bodily injury which, either at the time of the actual injury or at a later time, involves a substantial risk of death, a substantial risk of serious permanent disfigurement, a substantial risk of protracted loss or impairment of the function of any part or organ of the body, or breaks, fractures, or burns of the second or third degree.5

2.6. Knowingly

A person acts "knowingly" or "willfully" with respect to conduct or to a circumstance described by a statute defining an offense when he is aware that his conduct is of such nature or that such circumstance exists. A person acts "knowingly" or "willfully", with respect to a result of his conduct, when he is aware that his conduct is practically certain to cause the result.6

Acting knowingly is a general intent crime. This means you do not have to intend a result in order to be found guilty of acting knowingly. You just have to intended to do the act.

2.7. Recklessly

"Recklessly". A person acts recklessly when he consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that a result will occur or that a circumstance exists. 7

2.8. Detention facility

“Detention facility” means any building, structure, enclosure, vehicle, institution, or place, whether permanent or temporary, fixed or mobile, where persons are or may be lawfully held in custody or confinement under the authority of the state of Colorado or any political subdivision of the state of Colorado.8

2.9. Employee of a detention facility

“Employee of a detention facility” includes employees of the department of corrections, employees of any agency or person operating a detention facility, law enforcement personnel, and any other persons who are present in or in the vicinity of a detention facility and are performing services for a detention facility. “Employee of a detention facility” does not include a person lawfully confined in a detention facility.9

3. Penalties for assault in Colorado

3.1. 1st degree assault -- 18-3-202 C.R.S.

First degree assault is usually a Colorado class 3 felony as well as a Colorado "crime of violence." Crimes of violence can be punished more severely than non-violent crimes in the same class.

Consequences of assault in the first degree can, therefore, include:

  • 10-32 years in prison, and/or
  • A fine of $3,000-$750,000.

3.2. 2nd degree assault -- 18-3-203 C.R.S.

Second degree assault is usually a Colorado class 4 felony. Consequences of assault in the second degree can include:

  • 2-6 years in prison, and/or
  • A fine of $2,000-$500,000.

However, if you use or threaten the use of a deadly weapon during an assault in the second degree, or the assault results in serious bodily injury, you face Colorado's violent crime enhancement. This brings the period of your incarceration to:

  • 5-16 years in prison.

3.3. 3rd degree assault -- 18-3-204 C.R.S.

Third degree assault is a Colorado class 1 misdemeanor, as well as an “extraordinary risk” crime. Colorado extraordinary risk misdemeanors carry the possibility of an extra 6-month sentence. Penalties for assault in the third degree can thus include:

  • 6 -24 months in jail, and/or
  • A fine of $500-$5,000.
man threatening a cowering woman with his fist

3.4. Aggravating/mitigating factors

3.4.1. Sudden heat of passion

Penalty for an assault is often far less severe if you can prove it was committed in a sudden heat of passion. A sudden heat of passion exists when the intended victim of the assault has committed a serious and highly provoking act which would excite an irresistible passion in a reasonable person. The classic example is catching your spouse in bed with someone else.

In order to claim a sudden heat of passion, there must be no interval between the provocation and the injury sufficient for “the voice of reason and humanity to be heard.” In other words, if there was time to think about the provocation or to cool down, you can not claim a sudden heat of passion.

Sudden heat of passion is not a defense to assault charges. Rather, when proved, a sudden heat of passion will knock a felony assault conviction down by two classes. This can result in a significantly shorter sentence.

3.4.2. Domestic violence

Sentences for assault can be more severe if you are, or in the past have been, in an intimate relationship with the person you assaulted. In addition, if the assault involved domestic violence, you face a mandatory protective order to prohibit you from harassing or contacting the alleged victim.

For more information, please see our article on Colorado domestic violence.

3.5. Medical testing in cases of assault with bodily fluids

If you are arrested for assault based on causing someone to come into contact with bodily fluids, you will be required to provide samples for communicable disease testing. The court has the right to order you to pay for all or some of the testing costs.

The results of bodily fluid testing are entirely confidential. However, if you voluntarily submit to all required medical tests for communicable diseases, your voluntary submission is admissible in mitigation of your sentence if you are convicted of the charged offense.

4. Defenses to Colorado assault charges

Colorado's assault laws are quite complex. As a result, defenses depend very much on the facts and circumstances of your case.

However, common defenses often include (but are not limited to):

  • You didn't intend to hurt anyone,
  • You didn't use a deadly weapon,
  • You reasonably didn't know the person was an official carrying out a lawful duty,
  • You didn't act recklessly,
  • You didn't act knowingly, or
  • You were acting in reasonable and good faith self-defense or defense of another person.

Note that voluntary intoxication is not a defense to assault charges.

Call us for help…

call center receptionist

Colorado's assault laws are complex and nuanced. If you or someone you know has been charged with the crime of assault in Colorado, we invite you to call our experienced and compassionate assault and battery lawyers for a free consultation.

We will respond promptly to discuss your case and possible defenses with you. Contact us using the form on this page or call our Denver home office to find out why we are considered some of the best assault and menacing lawyers in Denver and Colorado.

We serve clients throughout the state, including in Colorado Springs, Aurora, Fort Collins, Lakewood, Thornton, Arvada, Westminster, and Centennial.

In Denver, our convenient home office is located at:

Colorado Legal Defense Group
1400 16th Street
16 Market Square
Denver CO 80202
720-955-6112


Legal references: 

  1. 18-1-901 (e) C.R.S.
  2. 18-1-901 (h) C.R.S.
  3. 18-3-203 (1)(f.5) C.R.S.
  4. 18-1-901 (c) C.R.S.
  5. 18-1-901 (p) C.R.S.
  6. 18-1-501 (6) C.R.S.
  7. 18-1-501 (8) C.R.S.

  8. 18-3-203 (1)(f.5)(III)(A) C.R.S.
  9. 18-3-203 (1)(f.5)(III) (B) C.R.S.

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