Colorado "child abuse" laws
18-6-401 C.R.S.

neglected child sitting on ground with heads buried in his arms

What is Colorado child abuse?

Under Colorado Revised Statutes 18-6-401, C.R.S., you commit child abuse when you harm a child under 16 or place him or her in a potentially harmful situation.

Penalties for child abuse range from 3 months in jail to life in prison, depending on whether the child was injured or died, and the severity and frequency of the abuse.

To help you better understand Colorado's child abuse laws, our top Colorado criminal defense lawyers discuss the following, below:

man with fist and scared boy with head buried in arms

1. Acts that constitute Colorado child abuse

Acts considered child abuse in Colorado include (but are not limited to):

  • Causing an injury to the child's life or health;
  • Permitting a child to be unreasonably placed in a situation that poses a threat of injury to the child's life or health; 
  • Engaging in a continued pattern of conduct that results in:
    • malnourishment, 
    • lack of proper medical care, 
    • cruel punishment, 
    • mistreatment, or 
    • an accumulation of injuries that ultimately results in the death of a child or serious bodily injury to a child;
  • DUI or DWAI with a child in the car;
  • Performing or allowing female circumcision or genital mutilation; or 
  • Allowing a child to be anywhere drugs are being illegally manufactured or certain drugs or precursors are present.

2. Colorado criminal child abuse penalties

The consequences of Colorado child abuse vary widely, depending on:

  • The age of the victim,
  • Whether you acted knowingly, recklessly or negligently, and
  • Whether the abuse resulted in injury or death.

From most to least serious, the possible Colorado child abuse crimes and penalties are:

2.1. First-degree murder

Child abuse is murder in the first degree in Colorado if:

  • The child was under the age of 12,
  • You were in a position of trust with respect to the child, and
  • You knowingly caused the child's death.

The penalty for Colorado first-degree murder is:

  • life imprisonment, or
  • the death penalty.

2.2. Death of a child

If you acted knowingly or recklessly, child abuse that results in death is a Colorado class 2 felony. Consequences of felony child abuse resulting in death can include:

  • 8-24 years in prison, and/or
  • A fine of $5,000-$1,000,000.

If you acted negligently, it is a Colorado class 3 felony. Penalties for negligent child abuse resulting in the child's death can include:

  • 4-16 years in prison, and/or
  • A fine of $3,000-$750,000.

2.3. Serious bodily injury

When a person acts knowingly or recklessly and child abuse results in serious bodily injury to the child, it is a Colorado class 3 felony. Consequences of negligent felony child abuse include:

  • 4-16 years in prison, and/or
  • A fine of $3,000-$750,000.

If you acted with criminal negligence, however, and the child was seriously injured, it is a Colorado class 4 felony. Consequences of negligent felony child abuse in Colorado include:

  • 2-8 years in prison, and/or
  • A fine of $2,000-$500,000.

2.4. Minor or no injury with a prior child abuse conviction

Certain acts of child abuse that would otherwise be a misdemeanor can become a Colorado class 5 felony. This can happen when:

  • you have a prior conviction for child abuse in any state or territory of the United States,
  • you are in a position of trust in relation to the child, and
    • you participate in a continued pattern of conduct that results in the child's malnourishment;
    • you fail to ensure the child's access to proper medical care;
    • you participate in a continued pattern of cruel punishment or unreasonable isolation or confinement of the child;
    • you make repeated threats of harm or death to the child or to a significant person in the child's life in the presence of the child;
    • you commit a continued pattern of acts of domestic violence in the presence of the child; or
    • you participate in a continued pattern of extreme deprivation of hygienic or sanitary conditions in the child's daily living environment.

Colorado class 5 felony child abuse penalties include:

  • 1-5 years in prison, and/or
  • A fine of $1,000-$100,000.

2.5. Minor or no injury

Other than as set forth above, child abuse that does not result in death or serious bodily injury is a Colorado misdemeanor.

If you acted knowingly or recklessly, Colorado misdemeanor child abuse penalties can include:

  • 3-18 months in jail, and/or
  • $250-$1,000 fine.

If you acted with criminal negligence, consequences are:

  • A fine of $50-$750 and/or
  • Up to one year in jail.
Young Asian girl lying in a hospital bed

3. Legal definitions in Colorado child abuse cases

3.1. Knowing child abuse

You “knowingly” commit child abuse when you are generally aware of:

  • the abusive nature of your conduct in relation to child, or
  • the circumstances in which you commit an act against the well-being of the child.1

3.2. Reckless child abuse

You act recklessly when you are aware of and consciously choose to disregard a substantial and unjustifiable risk that your conduct could result in injury to a child's life or health.2

3.3. Negligent child abuse

You act with criminal negligence when, through a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would exercise, you fail to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk that a result will occur or that a circumstance exists.3

3.4. Position of trust

For purposes of Colorado's child abuse law, you are in a position of trust with respect to a child if at the time of the unlawful act you are responsible for a child's health, education, welfare, or supervision, no matter how briefly.4

People in a position of trust can include (without limitation) the child's:

  • parent,
  • foster parent,
  • guardian,
  • teacher,
  • counselor,
  • day care supervisors, 
  • doctor or health care professional, and
  • baby sitters.5

4. Defending Colorado criminal child abuse charges

Child abuse charges can result in serious criminal penalties, including heavy fines and many years in Colorado prison. At the very least, you face jail time and significant monitoring as well as the possible loss of your child.

Our compassionate Colorado domestic violence lawyers understand that accidents happen. People can misinterpret a situation. As a result, innocent people get accused of child abuse.

Or maybe you just lost your cool and regret it and what you really need are coping tools – not prison or jail time.

Call us for help…

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If you or someone you know has been accused of child abuse, we invite you to call us for a free consultation. Our Colorado domestic violence attorneys will talk to the prosecutor and judge and, if necessary, the jury. We'll help them understand your side of the story and do the best to help you keep your children and your freedom.

We offer free consultations by phone, or in our centrally located Denver office:

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


 Legal references:

  1. People v. Noble, 1981, 635 P.2d 203.
  2. People v. Deskins, 1996, 927 P.2d 368, rehearing denied
  3. 18-1-501(3), C.R.S.
  4. 18-3-401(3.5), C.R.S.
  5. Same. See also People v. Roggow, 2013, 318 P.3d 446, rehearing denied.

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