In Colorado, simple assault is generally treated as a misdemeanor. However, assault can be prosecuted as a felony in more serious cases, such as when a deadly weapon is used or when the victim suffers a significant injury.
Types of felony assaults include:
- First-degree assault (CRS 18-3-202), which is a Class 3 felony,
- Second-degree assault (CRS 18-3-203), which is a Class 4 felony,
- Vehicular assault (CRS 18-3-205), which is a Class 5 felony, and
- Vehicular assault while driving under the influence (CRS 18-3-205(1)(b)), which is also a Class 4 felony.
- Kyle is driving while drunk. He causes an accident that hurts Pamela.
- Hank gets in an argument with Mark. Hank pulls out his pistol and shoots Mark in the hand.
People who have been charged with felony assault often use the following legal defenses:
- You acted in the heat of passion,
- You only committed the assault for self-defense or to defend someone else, and
- You did not intend to hurt someone.
A conviction for felony assault carries serious penalties. The most severe type of felony assault is first-degree assault. It is a Class 3 felony. Convictions for this type of crime carry at least:
- 4 years in jail, and
- $3,000 in fines.
Even the least severe type of felony assault carries high penalties. Convictions for Class 5 felonies like vehicular assault come with at least:
- 1 year in jail, and
- $1,000 in fines.
In this article, our Denver, Colorado criminal defense attorneys will explain:
- 1. What is a felony assault?
- 2. Legal defenses to a charge of felony assault
- 3. Penalties for a felony assault conviction
- 4. Crimes related to felony assault
1. What is a felony assault?
A felony assault is an assault crime that is severe enough to be charged as a felony.
Assaults are often divided into 3 degrees:
- First-degree assault,
- Second-degree assault, and
- Third-degree assault (CRS 18-3-204).
However, assault crimes can also be divided into two levels:
- Misdemeanor assaults, and
- Felony assaults.
This alternative way of defining assault crimes separates severe offenses from less severe ones. It also avoids talking about the degrees of assault, which can be nuanced and confusing. It also includes vehicular assault in the discussion.
What is an assault?
An assault is the crime of intentionally or recklessly hurting someone.
The circumstances of an assault case can influence the type of assault charge. The following factors make an assault more severe:
- The assault caused a serious injury,
- A deadly weapon was used during the offense, and
- The assault was intentional.
What is a felony?
Especially severe assaults are treated as felonies.
In Colorado, a felony is a crime that can be punished by more than a year in jail.
A felony is contrasted with a misdemeanor. Misdemeanors are criminal offenses that cannot carry more than a year in jail.
Types of felony assault in Colorado
There are four types of felony assault in Colorado:
- First-degree assault. This offense involves causing a serious injury with a deadly weapon.
- Second-degree assault. This offense involves intentionally causing a serious injury, without a deadly weapon. It can also be committed by recklessly causing a serious injury with a deadly weapon, like a car.
- Vehicular assault. This offense involves causing a serious injury to someone else while driving recklessly. It is often considered to be a particular application of second-degree assault.
- Vehicular assault while under the influence. This is a sentencing enhancement to vehicular assault. The penalty of a conviction for vehicular assault gets worse if you were under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
A conviction for any of these charges can carry over a year in jail. This makes them felony-level offenses.
2. Legal defenses to a charge of felony assault
If you have been accused of felony assault in Colorado, there are several legal defenses you can raise. If successful, these defenses can reduce the penalties of a conviction. They can also be a complete defense that leads to an acquittal.
Some of the most common defenses are:
- The assault was committed in the heat of passion,
- You were acting in self-defense or were trying to defend someone else from harm, and
- You did not intend to hurt someone else.
You were in the heat of passion
If you can prove that you only assaulted someone else because you were in the heat of passion, it reduces the severity of the crime. The penalties of a conviction get reduced, as a result.
The heat of passion defense can succeed if you can show that:
- The victim provoked you into assaulting them,
- A reasonable person would have been provoked in the situation, and
- There was no time for you to cool off.
If successful, the heat of passion defense reduces the severity of a felony assault crime by two classes. For example, it turns a first-degree assault conviction from a Class 3 felony into a Class 5 felony.
Self-defense or the defense of someone else
A common legal defense to a felony assault charge is self-defense. This includes the defense of others.
To show self-defense, you have to prove that:
- You reasonably believed the other person was about to use unlawful force against you, and
- You reasonably believed you were using only as much force as was necessary to protect yourself.
Lack of intent
Felony assault accusations require you to act with a culpable state of mind. This often means you were behaving intentionally or recklessly. If you can show that the injury was just an accident, it can be a successful defense to a felony assault charge.
3. Penalties for a felony assault conviction
By definition, all felony assault convictions come with at least a year in jail. This is just the minimum, though. A conviction for first-degree assault – the most serious type of felony assault in Colorado – carries up to:
- 12 years in jail, and
- $750,000 in fines.
There are also numerous collateral consequences of a felony conviction. These hidden penalties are often forgotten or overlooked. They include:
- Restrictions on your right to own or possess a firearm,
- Strict probation terms,
- Difficulties getting a job or keeping the one you have, and
- Voting restrictions.
4. Crimes related to felony assault
Several criminal offenses in Colorado are similar to felony assault. They include:
- Menacing (CRS 18-3-206). This is the crime of putting someone in fear of imminent harm. It is often charged along with felony assault.
- Domestic violence (CRS 18-6-801). If a felony assault is committed on someone you have an intimate relationship with, this law makes the penalties worse.
- Driving under the influence (CRS 42-4-1301). Even if you do not cause an accident that leads to an injury, you can still be accused of DUI.