CRS 18-9-202 is the Colorado law that prohibits cruelty to animals. This section makes it a crime to abuse, neglect, or abandon an animal for which the person has responsibility. Prosecutors can file this charge as a misdemeanor or a felony, and a conviction can carry up to 18 months of jail or prison on a first offense.
- Taking a pet dog into the woods and leaving it there to fend for itself
- Starving a pet cat by withholding food and water
- Leaving a pet hamster outside in winter
- Beating a workhorse with a pipe
- Bestiality with livestock
CRS 18-9-202 states that “a person commits cruelty to animals if he or she knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence overdrives, overloads, overworks, torments, deprives of necessary sustenance, unnecessarily or cruelly beats, allows to be housed in a manner that results in chronic or repeated serious physical harm, carries or confines in or upon any vehicles in a cruel or reckless manner, engages in a sexual act with an animal, or otherwise mistreats or neglects any animal, or causes or procures it to be done, or, having the charge or custody of any animal, fails to provide it with proper food, drink, or protection from the weather consistent with the species, breed, and type of animal involved, or abandons an animal.”
A first-time offense of animal abuse is a misdemeanor in Colorado. The sentence includes:
- 6 -- 18 months in county jail, and/or
- $500 -- $5,000 in fines.
However, the court typically imposes anger management instead of jail. But the court may order the forfeiture of animals involved in the case.
Aggravated animal cruelty -- severe, intentional mistreatment -- is always a felony.
Common defense strategies to CRS 18-9-202 charges are:
- The incident was an accident;
- The defendant acted in self-defense; or
- The police performed an illegal search and seizure
Below our Denver criminal defense lawyers discuss:
- 1. What is Colorado’s legal definition of animal cruelty?
- 2. What is aggravated animal cruelty?
- 3. What are the penalties under CRS 18-9-202?
- 4. What are ways to fight the charges?
- 5. How does it affect immigration?
- 6. Can I get a record sealed?
- 7. Is animal fighting the same as cruelty?
“Cruelty to animals” comprises all forms of abuse, neglect, or mistreatment. It makes no difference if the behavior was knowing, reckless, or merely negligent.
Specifically, animal cruelty is doing any of the following ten things to a wild or domestic animal:
- Torturing or needlessly killing;
- Overworking or overloading;
- Depriving necessary sustenance;
- Unnecessarily or cruelly beating;
- Housing in a hazardous way;
- Carrying or confining in or upon a vehicle in a cruel or reckless way;
- Engaging in a sex act;
- Failing to provide weather protection; or
- Abandoning (including intentionally abandoning a dog or cat)
Defendants face a separate charge for each animal they allegedly abused.1 So if a person is accused of neglecting two dogs, that person would face two separate cruelty charges.
In 2019, Congress passed the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act (PACT). PACT prohibits intentional animal crushing. “Crushing” means:
- Causing other serious harm
PACT also prohibits making or distributing “animal crushing” photographs or videos.
A person faces federal government charges under PACT if their actions affect interstate commerce.2 An example is selling an animal crush video over the internet.
The Colorado crime of aggravated cruelty to animals is when a person knowingly:
- Tortures an animal;
- Needlessly mutilates an animal; or
- Needlessly kills an animal
In short, aggravated animal cruelty is particularly egregious mental or physical mistreatment and extreme pain. As discussed below, it carries harsher punishments than ordinary animal cruelty.3
Colorado’s punishment for animal cruelty turns on whether:
- The court finds that cruelty was “aggravated”; and
- The defendant has prior convictions of violating 18-9-202 CRS.
Note that an animal victim of a violation of section 18-9-202 of the CRS may be impounded by an animal control officer and ultimately put down.
Animal cruelty offense
Colorado court sentences*
Second or subsequent conviction
The court may instead impose probation instead of prison as an appropriate sentence. But this would include at least 90 days in jail or home detention as a condition of probation.
|Aggravated animal cruelty|
Class 6 felony:
Second or subsequent conviction
|*Defendants may have to forfeit their animals. And if the animal was a service animal or certified police working dog, they may have to pay restitution for veterinary bills, replacement costs, training, and/or certification costs.|
Prior to sentencing, the court orders an evaluation. It helps assist the court in determining the sentence. Defendants pay for the evaluation unless they qualify for a public defender.
Not all defendants must undergo an evaluation. Evaluations are not required if the charges stem from either:
- The treatment of pack or draft animals. And the defendant is accused of negligently overworking them;
- The treatment of livestock. And the defendant’s treatment aligns with accepted agricultural animal husbandry practices and agricultural products for animals;
- The treatment of racing animals regulated under CRS 12-60;
- The treatment of research animals. And the facility is operating under state or federal laws;
- The treatment of rodeo animals;
- The treatment of dogs used for legal hunting activities;
- Wildlife nuisances; or
- Wildlife and predator control, including trapping
Defendants ordered to complete a treatment program have a financial incentive. Upon successful completion, the court may suspend the fine except for the minimum amount.4
Example: Shelly gets convicted of cruelty to animals as a first-offense for mistreating her dog, causing it to become a dangerous dog that needs to be put down. The judge decides not to order any jail. Instead, the judge fines her the maximum amount of $5,000. ($500 is the minimum for a first-time offense.) Following an evaluation, the court orders Shelly to complete anger management. If Shelly finishes the program, the court may suspend $4,500 of the fine. She would still need to pay the $500 mandatory minimum fine.
Violating the PACT Act is a felony. The punishment for the offense of cruelty to animals is:
- Up to 7 years in Federal Prison, and/or
- A fine5
The best way to fight charges of cruelty to animals turns on the facts of the case. Ten common defenses are:
- The injury was an accident;
- The defendant did not realize the animal was at risk of harm. And the defendant’s beliefs were reasonable.
- Someone made a false report accusing the defendant;
- There is no factual basis that anything the defendant did qualified as cruelty.
- The animal was sick or injured by unknown causes. Any further harm followed from the defendant’s good faith attempts to help;
- The animal attacked the defendant. And the defendant acted in reasonable self-defense.
- The animal was used for livestock, research, a rodeo, or hunting. And the defendant complied with applicable laws and/or industry practices;
- The defendant was trapping wildlife. And it was in line with Colorado law;
- The police entrapped the defendant. The defendant was not predisposed to harming animals. And the defendant never would have hurt the animal but for the police’s actions. (This is an affirmative defense, which means that the burden is on the D.A. to prove there was no entrapment.); or
- A peace officer discovered the animal from an illegal search and seizure or had no probable cause to arrest the defendant.
Typical evidence in animal cruelty cases include:
- Veterinary records
- Surveillance video and photographs
- Expert veterinary testimony
Animal cruelty is deportable.6 This means non-citizens convicted of it face removal from the U.S.
Immigrants in criminal cases should seek legal counsel. Perhaps the prosecutor may be willing to negotiate. Learn more about the criminal defense of immigrants in Colorado.
Convictions are potentially sealable three years after the case ends. But dismissals can be sealed right away.7
Learn more about Colorado record seal laws.
No. Animal fighting is a separate offense under CRS 18-9-204. The statute prohibits animal fights for entertainment or monetary gain. The most common examples are dog fights and cock (rooster) fights.
People who hold, sponsor, or encourage animal fights face prosecution. And the penalties are harsher than those for animal cruelty. Learn more about animal fighting (CRS 18-9-204).
Call us for help…
Arrested for cruelty to animals in Colorado? An alleged violation of any criminal law can have dire consequences. Contact our Denver Colorado criminal defense attorneys at 303-222-0330. We will fight to have the charges reduced or dismissed so you can keep your pet animals.
Colorado Legal Defense Group
4047 Tejon Street
Denver, CO 80211
To report animal abuse, contact a local law enforcement agency, the local Animal Control, the Humane Society, the Bureau of Animal Protection, or another organization that champions animal welfare and well-being.
Arrested in California? See our article on California animal abuse laws (597 PC).
Arrested in Nevada? See our article on Nevada animal cruelty laws (NRS 574).
- People v. Harris, 405 P.3d 361 (Colorado Court of Appeals, Division 2, 2016)(“A person commits cruelty to animals if he or she recklessly or with criminal negligence tortures, needlessly mutilates, or needlessly kills an animal.”).
- 18 U.S.C. 48.
- Colorado Revised Statute 18-9-202 CRS (under the provisions of paragraph (c), entering a plea of nolo contendere (no contest) to aggravated animal cruelty will result in a conviction).
- CRS 18-9-208; CRS 18-9-202 (under the provisions of subsection (b) and (c) of the Colorado criminal code, the minimum fine for violation of subsection (b) and (c) is one thousand dollars.). For the purposes of this section, other costs defendants may have to pay include impoundment with the Department of Agriculture or another agency, the cost of care, research facility bills, law enforcement agency bills, impound costs, animal protection, recommendation of treatment, evaluation results, the cost of the evaluation, wildlife commission bills, animal control costs, animal shelter costs, and/or the opinion of a licensed veterinarian. The judicial district may pay certain costs if the defendant is indigent. In an appropriate case, animals injured past recovery may be put down.
- 18 U.S.C. 48.
- See, e.g., Matter of Ortega-Lopez, 26 I&N Dec. 99 (BIA 2013).
- See CRS 24-72.