Colorado law defines 3rd-degree assault as knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence, inflicting bodily injury on another person. The offense is an extraordinary risk Class 1 Misdemeanor punishable by up to 18 months in jail and/or fines of up to $1,000.
In general, assault is the crime of wrongfully hurting someone.
There are three degrees of assault in Colorado:
- First-degree assault (CRS 18-3-202),
- Second-degree assault (CRS 18-3-203), and
- Third-degree assault (CRS 18-3-204).
The pertinent part of third-degree assault under CRS § 18-3-204 is section (1)(a), which reads:
(1) A person commits the crime of assault in the third degree if:
(a) The person knowingly or recklessly causes bodily injury to another person or with criminal negligence the person causes bodily injury to another person by means of a deadly weapon.
Examples of third-degree assault in violation of CRS 18-3-204 could include the following situations:
- Amy drives while talking on the phone and changing the directions on her GPS. A jury later decides this was criminal negligence. She causes a car accident that hurts another driver.
- Todd throws a baseball at Fred. The baseball hits Fred in the back. It causes a deep bruise.
Accusations of assault in the third degree can be fought by raising legal defenses like:
Raising one of these legal defenses is critical. The penalties that come with a conviction for CRS 18-3-204 are serious:
- Up to 18 months in jail, and
- Fines of up to $1,000.
Our Denver criminal defense attorneys can help. In this article, we explain:
- 1. How does Colorado law define third-degree assault?
- 2. What are the best defenses to this charge?
- 3. What is the potential jail time?
- 4. Criminal offenses that are related to third-degree assault
1. How does Colorado law define third-degree assault?
In Colorado, CRS 18-3-204 describes third-degree assault. Assault in the third degree is the least severe type of assault in Colorado. Assault in the third degree involves bodily injuries (including physical pain) that are not serious. Additionally, those injuries were not caused on purpose.
Nearly all third-degree assault charges under CRS 18-3-204 involve claims that someone:
- Knowingly or recklessly hurt someone else, or
- Hurt someone else with a deadly weapon while acting with criminal negligence.
Example: Bob sneaks up on a stranger he has mistaken for his friend. Bob taps the stranger on the shoulder. He then slaps the stranger across the face before realizing his mistake.
Example: Tara shows her friend Janelle her husband’s pistol. She does not think the gun is loaded, but it is. Tara gestures wildly as she talks and the gun goes off. The bullet grazes Janelle’s calf.
1.1. Bodily injury versus a serious bodily injury
Third-degree assault charges under CRS 18-3-204 involve bodily injuries, but not serious bodily injuries.
Serious bodily injuries include:
- Broken or fractured bones,
- Second degree or third degree burns,
- A substantial risk of death,
- Serious and permanent disfigurements,
- Loss of a body part, and
- A long-term loss of body function.1
If the injuries are this serious, an assault can be charged in the second or even the first degree. When the injuries are not this serious, the assault would be charged in the third degree.
1.2. Knowingly hurting someone else
CRS 18-3-204 prohibits knowingly causing an injury to someone else.
Doing something “knowingly” has a specific meaning in the law. It means that you were aware that what you were doing was “practically certain to cause the result.”2 Doing something “knowingly” falls short of doing it intentionally. However, it is more serious than just taking a heedless risk.
Example: Danielle is angry at her workers. She throws her office chair out her window on the third floor. Jeff is walking by on the sidewalk. He gets hit but only suffers a bruised shoulder.
1.3. Recklessly hurting someone else
CRS 18-3-204 also prohibits recklessly causing an injury.
Reckless conduct means consciously ignoring the substantial risk that a specific result will happen.3 People acting recklessly are aware of the dangers of what they are about to do. However, they choose to ignore those dangers.
Example: Bob is late to work and careens down his driveway at 30 miles per hour. He is unable to stop before hitting Lucy, who was jogging on the sidewalk.
1.4. Hurting someone else with criminal negligence and using a deadly weapon
Hurting someone with criminal negligence can be a third-degree assault. However, it has to be done with a deadly weapon.
Criminal negligence is the failure to perceive the substantial risk that a certain result will occur. This failure to notice the risk has to be a “gross deviation” from what a reasonable person would notice.4 Criminal negligence is worse than just acting negligently or by accident. Criminal negligence includes a nearly blind ignorance to the risks.
Example: Ralph is at the shooting range. He starts shooting his rifle into the air to see if he can hit a cloud. One of the bullets grazes Beatrice’s arm in the next town.
2. What are the best defenses to this charge?
There are numerous legal defenses to a charge of third-degree assault under CRS 18-3-204. Some are more common than others. Among the most common defenses in assault cases are:
- Self-defense, including the defense of others,
- Lack of necessary intent to commit the crime, and
- False accusations.
2.1. Self-defense and the defense of others
Self-defense or the defense of others is likely the most common defense to assault in the third degree.
Proving that the assault was done in self-defense requires showing that:
- You thought the other person was about to use unlawful force against you, and
- You used as much force as you thought was necessary to protect yourself.
Both of those thoughts need to be reasonable for a self-defense claim to work.
There is only one difference between a claim of self-defense and the defense of others. That difference is that you thought someone else was in danger, rather than yourself.
2.2. Lack of the necessary intent
Most third-degree assault allegations require the prosecutor to show that you acted knowingly or recklessly.
An effective legal defense is to prevent the prosecutor from reaching this threshold. You can do this by highlighting evidence that you made a mistake or were acting negligently. If the injuries were accidental, you cannot be convicted of third-degree assault under CRS 18-3-204.
2.3. False accusations
A false accusation is an allegation of a criminal offense that has an ulterior motive. Lots of people in Colorado get falsely accused of third-degree assault. Many accusers only claim to be victims and even file for restraining orders to gain leverage over someone else. Sometimes, these accusers are retaliating against the defendant. And in some cases, bad police officers or peace officers falsely accuse the defendant.
You can defend against an assault charge by arguing the accusation is false. You can prove this defense by showing evidence that the alleged victim has an ulterior motive. This proof can undercut their credibility and help your defense.
3. What is the potential jail time?
In Colorado, violations of CRS 18-3-204 are extraordinary risk class 1 misdemeanors. These are the most severe type of misdemeanors in Colorado law. They carry the following penalties for a conviction:
- Up to 18 months in county jail, and/or
- Up to $1,000 in fines.5
The potential jail sentence for a conviction for third-degree assault is higher than many other Class 1 misdemeanors. The higher jail sentence is because third-degree assault is an “extraordinary risk crime.”6 Extraordinary risk crimes have maximum jail sentences that are six months longer than other crimes in their class.7
Note that a criminal record for a third-degree assault conviction can be sealed 3 years after the case ends. And if the case gets dismissed, then there is no waiting period to petition for a seal.
4. Criminal offenses that are related to third-degree assault
Some criminal charges are related to third-degree assault. They often come alongside charges of assault in the third degree. These related offenses include:
- Domestic violence (CRS 18-6-801). This can enhance the penalties of a third-degree assault conviction. Domestic violence requires an intimate relationship between the defendant and the alleged victim,8
- Second-degree assault (CRS 18-3-203). This is often filed alongside a third-degree assault charge. It generally requires intentional conduct for a conviction,9 and
- Menacing (CRS 18-3-206). This makes it illegal to knowingly make someone fear they are about to suffer a serious injury.10
Our law office is based in Denver, but our DUI and criminal defense lawyers create attorney-client relationships throughout the state, including Aurora, Colorado Springs, Lakewood, and Boulder.
- People v. Martinez, 540 P. 2d 1091, 1092 (1975) and Colorado Revised Statute § 18-1-901(3)(p).
- CRS § 18-1-501(6).
- CRS § 18-1-501(8).
- CRS § 18-1-501(3).
- CRS § 18-3-204(3); felony assaults are first- and second-degree assault. Prior to March 1, 2022, extraordinary risk class 1 misdemeanors carried up to 2 years in jail. SB21-271.
- See note 5.
- CRS § 18-1.3-501(3)(b)(I).
- CRS § 18-6-801.
- CRS § 18-3-203.
- CRS § 18-3-206.