Colorado's Criminal "Harassment" Law
(18-9-111 C.R.S.)

upset teenage girl sitting near computer

Colorado 18-9-111 C.R.S. -- Harassment / Kiana Arellano's law

Harassing someone by stalking, cyber bullying or telephone is a misdemeanor in Colorado.

Acts that can constitute criminal harassment include:

  • Making physical contact with a person (including striking, shoving, kicking or touching);
  • Directing obscene language or gestures at someone in a public place;
  • Following a person in a public place;
  • Threatening bodily injury or property damage, or making obscene requests or comments, by phone;
  • Cyber bullying;
  • Calling a person repeatedly (including calling and hanging up);
  • Contacting someone repeatedly at inconvenient hours; or
  • Repeatedly insulting, taunting or challenging someone in offensive language.

However, in order to violate Colorado's criminal harassment law, these acts must be done with the intent to harass, annoy, or alarm another person. If you are exercising a constitutionally protected form of free speech (such as a protest or consumer complaint), you are not guilty of harassment.

Penalties for Colorado criminal harassment

Criminal harassment is usually a Colorado class 3 misdemeanor. Penalties for Colorado harassment can include:

  • Up to 6 months in jail, and/or
  • A fine of $50-$750.

If, however, the harassment was done because of someone's actual or perceived race, color, religion, ancestry, or national origin, it is a Colorado class 1 misdemeanor. Punishment for harassment as a Colorado class 1 misdemeanor can include:

  • 6 - 18 months in jail, and/or
  • A fine of $500-$5,000.

To help you better understand Colorado's criminal harassment law, our Colorado criminal defense lawyers explain:

young man harassing young woman on street

1. The legal meaning of harassment in Colorado

Section 18-9-111 (1) of the Colorado Revised Statutes – 18-9-111 C.R.S. – provides:

(1) A person commits harassment if, with intent to harass, annoy, or alarm another person, he or she:

(a) Strikes, shoves, kicks, or otherwise touches a person or subjects him to physical contact; or

(b) In a public place directs obscene language or makes an obscene gesture to or at another person; or

(c) Follows a person in or about a public place; or

(e) Directly or indirectly initiates communication with a person or directs language toward another person, anonymously or otherwise, by telephone, telephone network, data network, text message, instant message, computer, computer network, computer system, or other interactive electronic medium in a manner intended to harass or threaten bodily injury or property damage, or makes any comment, request, suggestion, or proposal by telephone, computer, computer network, computer system, or other interactive electronic medium that is obscene; or

(f) Makes a telephone call or causes a telephone to ring repeatedly, whether or not a conversation ensues, with no purpose of legitimate conversation; or

(g) Makes repeated communications at inconvenient hours that invade the privacy of another and interfere in the use and enjoyment of another's home or private residence or other private property; or

(h) Repeatedly insults, taunts, challenges, or makes communications in offensively coarse language to, another in a manner likely to provoke a violent or disorderly response.

For purposes of Colorado's harassment law, a communication is deemed to have occurred or to have been committed at the place at which the telephone call, electronic mail, or other electronic communication was either made or received.1

1.1. The legal definition of “obscene”

18-9-111 (1.5) C.R.S. provides:

As used in this section, unless the context otherwise requires, “obscene” means a patently offensive description of ultimate sexual acts or solicitation to commit ultimate sexual acts, whether or not said ultimate sexual acts are normal or perverted, actual or simulated, including masturbation, cunnilingus, fellatio, analingus, or excretory functions.

1.2. Does Colorado's telephone harassment law apply to calls I receive?

Colorado's law against telephone harassment can apply to calls you receive. However, there are no reported court cases on this and such a prosecution is far less likely.

The most likely scenario in which this would occur, would be if you were to:

  • Harass a caller with the intent to annoy, harm or alarm him or her, or
  • Describe or solicit sexual acts in a way that was “patently offensive.”

Actions that might violate these laws include blowing an air horn into the phone when a telemarketer calls, or describing in graphic language sexual acts you would like to perform on a bill collector.

2. Does Colorado's harassment law violate my constitutional right of free speech?

young man shouting into megaphone

Colorado courts have routinely held that Colorado's criminal harassment laws are not constitutionally vague or overbroad and do not violate your rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

In addition, 18-9-111 (8) C.R.S. expressly provides:

  • This section is not intended to infringe upon any right guaranteed to any person by the first amendment to the United States constitution or to prevent the expression of any religious, political, or philosophical views.

Not all aspects of Colorado's harassment law have been tested in court, however. In particular, 18-9-111 (1)(e) C.R.S. – known as “Kiana Arellano's law” – has only existed since July 2015.

But other aspects of the law have been tested many times in court, particularly the sections on stalking and telephone harassment. As the Colorado Supreme Court noted:

“The gravamen of the offense is the thrusting of an offensive and unwanted communication on one who is unable to ignore it.”2

Thus the test is often whether communication that is obscene or is intended to annoy someone intrudes into a place where someone has a reasonable expectation of being left alone.

3. Criminal penalties for Colorado harassment

Harassment is most often a class 3 misdemeanor. Consequences of criminal harassment in Colorado can include:

  • Up to 6 months in jail, and/or
  • A fine of $50-$750.

Alternatively, the judge may sentence you to probation.

If, however, the harassment was done because of someone's actual or perceived race, color, religion, ancestry, or national origin, it is a Colorado class 1 misdemeanor. A Colorado class 1 misdemeanor can be punished by:

  • 6 - 18 months in jail, and/or
  • A fine of $500-$5,000.

4. Defenses to Colorado harassment charges

The circumstances in which criminal harassment can be charged in Colorado are very limited and specific. As a result, there are many defenses available to defeat criminal harassment accusations. Some of the most common include (but are not limited to):

  • You didn't make the communication.
  • You didn't touch or threaten anyone.
  • You acted out of fear or anger.
  • You didn't intend to annoy, harm or alarm anyone.
  • Your communication was not obscene.
  • Your communication was not patently offensive.
  • Your communication was constitutionally protected.
  • You were legitimately trying to reach someone during reasonable hours.
  • The alleged victim had no reasonable expectation of privacy.
  • You harassed someone, but it was not because of their race, color, religion, ancestry, or national origin.

5. Who is Kiana Arellano?

Kiana's law is named for Kiana Arellano, a 14-year old Colorado high school sophomore and cheerleader.

In 2013, after being cyberbullied by classmates, Kiana tried to hang herself. Although she survived, the lack of oxygen left Kiana a paraplegic and resulted in a severe brain injury that left her unable to talk.

At the time, Colorado had no law against cyberbullying. As a result of what happened to Kiana, however, the Colorado legislature passed Kiana Arellano's Law, which took effect in July 2015.

Call us for help…

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Like all the best Colorado criminal attorneys, our Denver domestic violence lawyers understand that frustration and anger can often be misinterpreted.

And even when our clients are guilty of harassing someone, what they often need is not a jail sentence, but mechanisms for coping with anger.

If you or someone you know has been accused of criminal harassment in Denver or elsewhere in Colorado, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation. We will get back to you promptly to discuss your case and the best defenses to harassment charges.

Our Denver criminal defense lawyers can be reached via the form on this page, or at:

Colorado Legal Defense Group
1400 16th Street
16 Market Square
Denver CO 80202

Legal references:

  1. 18-9-111 (3) C.R.S.
  2. People v. Weeks (1979) 197 Colo. 175. 

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