Does Colorado have a law of "treason"?

Posted by Neil Shouse | Feb 07, 2019 | 0 Comments

Yes. Colorado's legal definition of "treason" is either:

  • levying war against the state of Colorado, or
  • adhering to Colorado's enemies and giving them aid and comfort

Possible examples of treason could be:

  • planning a coup against the Colorado government
  • orchestrating a social media campaign to take down the Colorado government
  • planning to blow up the Colorado state capitol building

Proving a defendant guilty of treason in Colorado

A defendant cannot be convicted of treason in Colorado unless either:

  • the defendant confesses to the treason in open court, or
  • two witnesses give testimony to the same overt act of treason

Therefore, physical evidence alone is insufficient to prove guilt of treason beyond a reasonable doubt. Either the defendant needs to admit to it, or at least two people must testify to having witnessed the same open and plain treasonous action.

Penalties for treason in Colorado

Treason is prosecuted as a class 1 felony in Colorado. The penalty carries:

Note that there is no mandatory parole period for class 1 felonies.

Sentencing hearings for treason

After a defendant gets convicted of treason, the court holds a separate sentencing hearing to decide whether to impose death or life in prison. The defendant may call character witnesses attesting to his/her goodness and worthiness of life. Meanwhile, the prosecution can admit testimony suggesting that the defendant's actions were so egregious that he/she deserves death. 

Colorado's death row is near Cañon City. Defendants typically wait several years before their sentence is carried out, if ever; only one defendant has been given the death penalty since 1975. The death penalty is administered by lethal injection. 

Defenses to treason charges in Colorado

When a person gets arrested for treason, his/her defense attorney would conduct a thorough investigation of all the available evidence in order to craft the most effective defense strategies. Possible arguments to fight treason charges are the following:

  1. No treason occurred. There is often a fine line between acts that constitute treason and acts that constitute perfectly legal exercises of one's Constitutional rights to free speech and assembly. A defense attorney would try to demonstrate how the defendant's actions and words fell squarely within his/her Constitutional rights and did not rise to the level of making war against Colorado. If the prosecutor cannot prove that the defendant committed treason beyond a reasonable doubt, the charge should be dropped.
  2. The defendant was falsely accused. It is not uncommon for innocent people to be framed for crimes they did not commit. Sometimes the accuser makes the false accusations out of anger or revenge or even an innocent mistake. Either way, if the defense attorney can show the prosecutor that the defendant was a victim of false allegations, the case should be dismissed.
  3. There was no overt act of treason. If a defendant will not confess to treason, the court may not convict him/her unless two witnesses can testify to the defendant committing an "overt act" of treason. If the defense attorney can show that nothing the defendant did rose to the level of an overtly treasonous act, then the defendant should not be convicted.

Legal References

18-11-101 C.R.S. Treason

1. A person commits treason if he levies war against the state of Colorado or adheres to its enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless upon the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act or upon confession in open court.

2. Treason is a class 1 felony.

About the Author

Neil Shouse

A former Los Angeles prosecutor, attorney Neil Shouse graduated with honors from UC Berkeley and Harvard Law School (and completed additional graduate studies at MIT). He has been featured on CNN, Good Morning America, Dr Phil, Court TV, The Today Show and Court TV. Mr Shouse has been recognized by the National Trial Lawyers as one of the Top 100 Criminal and Top 100 Civil Attorneys.


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