Under Colorado CRS § 18-6-401, a person commits child abuse when he or she “causes an injury to a child’s life or health, or permits a child to be unreasonably placed in a situation that poses a threat of injury to the child’s life or health, or engages in a continued pattern of conduct that results in malnourishment, lack of proper medical care, cruel punishment, mistreatment, or an accumulation of injuries that ultimately results in the death of a child or serious bodily injury to a child.”
- If no serious injury results, child abuse is a misdemeanor carrying up to 364 days in jail and/or $1,000 in fines.
- Otherwise, child abuse is a felony carrying 2 to 16 years in prison and/or $2,000 to $750,000 in fines.
To help you better understand Colorado’s child abuse laws, our top Denver Colorado criminal defense lawyers discuss the following, below:
- 1. What acts constitute Colorado child abuse?
- 2. What are the penalties under CRS 18-6-401?
- 3. Is abusing a child an intent crime in Colorado?
- 4. What is the best way to fight the charges?
Learn about Colorado mandatory abuse of a minor reporting laws.
Acts considered child abuse under Colorado Revised Statute 18-6-401 CRS include (but are not limited to):
- Causing an injury to the child’s life or the health of the child, such as physical abuse or emotional abuse;
- Permitting a child to be unreasonably placed in a situation that poses a threat of injury to the child’s life or health;
- Engaging in a continued pattern of conduct that results in:
- lack of proper medical care,
- cruel punishment,
- mistreatment, or
- an accumulation of injuries that ultimately results in the death of a child or serious bodily injury to a child;
- DUI or DWAI with a child in the car;
- Performing or allowing female circumcision or genital mutilation (“infibulation … of the labia minora, vulva, or clitoris of a female child … or such child’s labia majora,”); or
- Allowing the presence of a child near the manufacture of controlled substances or near certain drugs and precursors (such as phenylpropanolamine, pseudoephedrine, methamphetamine, and isomers)
The consequences of Colorado child abuse vary widely, depending on:
- The age of the victim,
- Whether you acted knowingly, recklessly or negligently, and
- Whether the abuse resulted in injury or death.
Abusing a child is also an extraordinary risk crime, which carries heftier penalties.
From most to least serious, the possible Colorado child abuse crimes and penalties are:
Child abuse is murder in the first degree in Colorado if:
- The child was under 12 years of age,
- You were in a position of trust with respect to the child, and
- You knowingly caused the child’s death.
The penalty for Colorado first-degree murder is:
- life imprisonment
If you acted knowingly or recklessly, child abuse that results in death is a Colorado class 2 felony. Consequences of felony child abuse resulting in death can include this sentencing range:
- 8-24 years in prison, and/or
- A fine of $5,000-$1,000,000.
If you acted negligently, it is a Colorado class 3 felony. Penalties for negligent child abuse resulting in the child’s death can include:
- 4-16 years in prison, and/or
- A fine of $3,000-$750,000.
When a person acts knowingly or recklessly, and child abuse results in serious bodily injury, the district attorney charges such a person with class 3 felony child abuse.
- 4-16 years in prison, and/or
- A fine of $3,000-$750,000.
If you acted with criminal negligence, however, and the child was seriously injured, it is a Colorado class 4 felony. Consequences of negligent felony child abuse in Colorado include:
- 2-8 years in prison, and/or
- A fine of $2,000-$500,000.
An instance of child abuse that would otherwise be a misdemeanor can become a Colorado class 5 felony. This can happen when:
- you have a prior conviction for abuse of a minor in any state or territory of the United States,
- you are in a position of trust in relation to the child, and
- you participate in a continued pattern of conduct that results in the child’s malnourishment;
- you fail to ensure the child’s access to proper medical care;
- you participate in a continued pattern of cruel punishment or unreasonable isolation or confinement of the child;
- you make repeated threats of harm or death to the child or to a significant person in the child’s life in the presence of the child;
- you commit a continued pattern of acts of domestic violence in the presence of the child; or
- you participate in a continued pattern of extreme deprivation of hygienic or sanitary conditions in the child’s daily living environment.
Colorado class 5 felony child abuse penalties include:
- 1-5 years in prison, and/or
- A fine of $1,000-$100,000.
Other than as set forth above, child abuse that does not result in death or serious bodily injury is a misdemeanor.
If you acted knowingly or recklessly, misdemeanor minor abuse penalties can include:
- Up to 364 days in jail, and/or
- Up to $1,000 in fines.
If you acted with criminal negligence, the consequences are:
- Up to 120 days in jail, and/or
- Up to $750 in fines.
Note that defendants may face civil liability in addition to criminal liability. The custody of a child may also be jeopardized by charges of abuse of a minor.
It depends on the type of abuse.
You “knowingly” commit the crime of child abuse when you are generally aware of:
- the abusive nature of your conduct in relation to the child, or
- the circumstances in which you commit an act against the well-being of the child.1
You act recklessly when you are aware of and consciously choose to disregard a substantial and unjustifiable risk that your conduct could result in injury to a child’s life or health.2
You act with criminal negligence when, through a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would exercise, you fail to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk that a result will occur or that a circumstance exists.3
For purposes of Colorado’s child abuse law, you are in a position of trust with respect to a child if at the time of the unlawful act you are responsible for a child’s
- physical and mental health,
- welfare, or
- supervision, no matter how briefly.4
People in a position of trust can include (without limitation) the child’s:
- foster parent,
- legal guardian,
- day care supervisors,
- doctor or health care professional, and
- baby sitters.5
Note that all co-conspirators to alleged abuse of a minor face criminal charges, even if some were more involved than others.
Abuse of a minor charges can result in serious criminal penalties, including heavy fines and many years in Colorado prison. At the very least, you face jail time and significant monitoring as well as the possible loss of your child.
Our Colorado domestic violence lawyers understand that accidents happen. People can misinterpret a situation. As a result, innocent people get accused of abuse of a minor. Or perhaps you were acting in self-defense. Perhaps there was a legitimate medical purpose. Or maybe law enforcement entrapped you (which is an affirmative defense, putting the burden on the D.A. to prove you the police did not unlawfully trick you).
Or maybe you just lost your cool and regret it and what you really need are coping tools to be a child’s parent – not prison or jail time.6
Call us for help…
If you or someone you know has been accused of child abuse criminal charges, we invite you to call us for a free consultation at 303-222-0330. Our Colorado domestic violence attorneys will talk to the prosecutor and judge and, if necessary, the jury. We’ll help them understand your side of the story and do our best to help you keep your children and your freedom.
It is our standard practice to offer free consultations by phone, or in our centrally located Denver office. Our law firm also provides bail and release assistance throughout Colorado, including Boulder, Golden, and Colorado Springs. We are available twenty-four hours a day.
If you need to report abuse of a minor or need emergency services, refer to Colorado’s Department of Human Services. Staff members can help.
Colorado Legal Defense Group
4047 Tejon Street
Denver CO 80211
Arrested in Nevada? See our article on Nevada minor abuse laws criminal laws.
- People v. Noble, 1981, 635 P.2d 203.
- People v. Deskins, 1996, 927 P.2d 368, rehearing denied
- 18-1-501(3), C.R.S.
- 18-3-401(3.5), C.R.S.
- Same. See also People v. Roggow, 2013, 318 P.3d 446, rehearing denied.
- Note that penalties for class 1 and 2 misdemeanors changed on March 1, 2022. SB21-271. See also People v. Archer, (Colorado Court of Appeals, 2022) COA 71.