In Colorado, domestic violence is defined as “an act or threatened act of violence upon a person with whom the actor is or has been involved in an intimate relationship.” Domestic violence (DV) is not treated as an independent crime but rather as a sentencing enhancement or aggravator.
Here are four key things to know:
- Domestic violence increases the punishment for any offense committed against current or former spouses or dating partners.
- While DV charges are pending against you, the court will issue a protection order requiring you to stay away from the alleged victim.
- Colorado is a mandatory arrest state, meaning police must arrest anyone they have probable cause to believe committed domestic violence through intimidation, coercion, control, punishment, or revenge.
- Prosecutors still bring DV charges even if the alleged victim recants or does not want to press charges.
Ten crimes that commonly include the domestic violence enhancement are:
- Assault (CRS 18-3-202 – 204) – unlawful and unwanted touching (such as pushing, punching, shoving, kicking, or throwing objects at)
- Stalking a.k.a. “Vonnie’s Law” (CRS 18-3-602) – credible threats and repeated behaviors that causes emotional distress
- Harassment (CRS 18-9-111) – repeatedly annoying or following someone
- Child abuse (CRS 18-6-401) – any type of harm to a child under 18
- Sexual contact (CRS 18-3-404) – unwanted groping
- Menacing (CRS 18-3-206) – using threats to create fear of injury or death
- False imprisonment (CRS 18-3-303) – unlawful and non-consensual detention
- Elder abuse (CRS 18-6.5-103) – any type of harm to people 70 or over
- Sexual assault (CRS 18-3-402) – non-consensual penetrative sex (such as physically forcing sex, non-consensual rough sex, or sex while the victim is unconscious, drunk, or asleep)
- Violating a restraining order (CRS 18-6-803.5) – an “adverse party” making contact with a “protected person”
Though the domestic violence case enhancement can apply to any criminal charge or municipal ordinance violation. Even crimes against pets or property:
Example: Jeff bashes his ex-boyfriend’s Rex’s car windows. Jeff could then face charges for criminal mischief (CRS 18-4-501) for damaging the car because that counts as abusive behavior in Colorado. And since Rex and Jeff used to date, the prosecutor would also bring a domestic violence crime enhancement against Jeff for being an abusive partner. It does not matter that they are no longer together, and their sexual orientation is irrelevant. It also does not matter that their abusive relationship did not involve physical violence, physical force, or physical injury, or that they used to have a healthy relationship.
If Jeff and Rex in the above example were platonic friends, then the window bashing would not be an act of domestic violence (“intimate partner violence”). Instead, Jeff would just face prosecution for criminal mischief.1
Note that domestic violence does not always manifest as physical abuse or sexual abuse. There can be
- financial abuse, such as
- restricting the victim’s access to their bank account, cash, or credit cards
- keep the victim from earning money
- trying to get the victim’s boss to fire them
- controlling or stealing the victim’s money, PIN numbers, etc.
- using the victim’s social security number for the abuser’s benefit
- technological abuse (which can occur from a long distance away), such as
- stealing email and social media passwords
- posting revenge porn or forcing the victim to post nude photos
- repeated texting/calling
- sending negative messages
- going through and monitoring the victim’s devices without permission
- not giving the victim access to their computers and devices or controlling their access
- stalking, such as
- repeated calling/texting
- following the victim or loitering where they are
- giving them unwanted gifts
- destroying or damaging the victim’s property
- tracking the victim’s whereabouts, such as by putting a GPS device on their car
- verbal or emotional abuse, such as
- public humiliation or shaming
- making physical threats against the victim, their family, or pets
- restricting who the victim can associate with
Learn more about the legal definition of domestic violence in Colorado.
Yes, a Colorado DV charge always triggers a mandatory protection order. While the order is active, you may not have alcohol and must avoid the accuser.2
- Up to 364 days in jail, and/or
- Up to $1,000 in fines.3
2.1. How long will the protection order last? Can I amend it?
DV mandatory protection orders can last all the way from your arrest up through the end of your sentence (if you are convicted). You are always free to ask the court to drop the order or to change the terms. The judge is more likely to comply if:
- you never violated the protection order;
- the D.A. does not object; and/or
- you complete a treatment program
The alleged victim can ask the court to drop/amend the protection order as well.
2.2. How can I go home or see my kids while the DV protection order is active?
If your protection order forbids you from going home or seeing your children, the most important thing is to abide by the order while letting your attorney try to get the order dropped or softened. Even if the alleged victim allows you in the house to see the kids, you could still be convicted of violating the restraining order.
In the meantime, you or your attorney can request that the local city or county police station grant you a “civil standby” (a.k.a. “civil assist”) where a police officer accompanies you into your home for 15-to-30 minutes while you retrieve essential personal items. You will not be allowed to take property that the accuser disputes is yours.
3. Are DV cases fast-tracked?
Yes. Domestic violence cases in Colorado are fast-tracked. This means that:
- The police fill out an incident report the same day as the arrest; and
- You enter an initial plea during the first court hearing.
In non-DV cases, it is not unusual for several weeks to elapse between the arrest and the arraignment. The purpose of fast-tracking DV cases is to get you counseling and to protect victims from abusive or violent behavior as soon as possible.4
Since DV is an enhancement, the punishment depends on the underlying charge. Though in most misdemeanor cases, you may be eligible for probation in lieu of incarceration.
In addition, the judge may order that you be evaluated and complete a domestic violence treatment program. The judge may also extend the restraining order.
Note that a fourth conviction involving DV labels you as a habitual domestic violence offender. This is a class 5 felony, carrying:
- 1 to 3 years in Colorado State Prison (with mandatory 2-year parole), and/or
- A fine of $1,000 to $100,0005
This sentence is in addition to the one for the underlying crime.
Note that a DV conviction can have significant consequences beyond the penalties for the crime itself. It can affect your:
- job opportunities,
- professional license,6
- child custody/parental rights,
- ability to get housing and loans, and/or
- military status (if applicable)
See our related article, What class of crime is domestic violence in Colorado?
An intimate relationship is based on a romantic attachment or shared parental status, such as:
- A wife or husband, or an ex-wife or ex-husband; or
- A girlfriend or boyfriend, or an ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend; or
- A co-parent (“baby daddy” or “baby mama”), including of adopted children7
Roommates, friends, or co-workers do not count as intimate relationships unless they fall under one of the above categories. It is not necessary that the two people live together. A sexual relationship may be an indicator of an intimate relationship, but it is not required.
Example: Joe – who has a problem with controlling behavior – places angry phone calls to his ex-girlfriend Betty dozens of times. Here, Joe could face DV harassment charges. Even though they never had sex, the DV enhancement applies because they used to date.
6. Will the DV charge be dismissed if the victim recants?
No. At least, not right away. Law enforcement officers are suspicious of alleged victims who recant their allegations of intimate partner abuse. They assume alleged victims have ulterior motives, such as:
- Family is pressuring them to take back their story; or
- They want you out of jail so you can earn money and support the family
Moreover, prosecutors may have sufficient evidence that DV occurred despite the victim’s protestations. For example, the alleged DV incident may have been captured on video. Or there may be credible eyewitnesses willing to testify.
Courts take DV cases very seriously. A judge will dismiss a DV case only if the prosecutor claims under oath that insufficient evidence exists to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. So if the victim insists on recanting – and the only evidence of DV is the victim’s initial accusation – prosecutors may choose to drop the case prior to trial for lack of proof.8
7. Will it cause a loss of gun rights?
You usually may not possess firearms while there is a restraining order against you in a DV case. So you must surrender your guns to law enforcement, a dealer, or a private party. Then if the case gets dismissed and the restraining order lifted, your guns may be returned.
Example: Javier is fighting with his baby’s mother. He leaves angry, name-calling messages on her voicemail accusing her of being a terrible parent. Javier gets convicted of DV harassment as a misdemeanor. Because this harassment involved no force (or threat of force), he should keep his gun rights.
8. Will it cause deportation of a non-citizen?
Domestic abuse is usually deportable.10 Therefore, non-citizens facing a DV enhancement should consult an experienced attorney. It may be possible to get the charge
- reduced to a non-removable offense or
Learn more about the criminal defense of immigrants in Colorado.
9. How long does domestic violence stay on my record in Colorado?
The only sealable DV-related convictions in Colorado are municipal court cases. There is a three-year waiting period to seal the criminal record. During that time, you must not have picked up any new cases.
Any DV-related convictions in non-municipal court will remain on your record forever.
Though any DV-related case that gets dismissed is sealable immediately. This includes both
- municipal and
- non-municipal cases.11
Learn about how to get a Colorado criminal record seal.
10. What are common defense strategies?
The best way to win a domestic abuse case is to fight the underlying charge. In a DV assault case for instance, you may argue that:
- It was an act of self-defense;
- The incident was an accident; or
- The alleged victim falsely accused you of domestic abuse
Then if the D.A. drops the assault charge, the DV enhancement automatically disappears.
To specifically eliminate a DV enhancement under Colorado criminal law, you can show that the accuser was never in an intimate relationship with you. Perhaps the accuser falsely claimed to be involved with you. Or perhaps the police officer wrongly presumed you were together.
Possible evidence that may show there was no intimacy includes:
- Eyewitness accounts;
- Text messages, emails, and voicemails;
- Video recordings; and/or
- Therapist notes
If the prosecution withdraws the domestic abuse enhancement, the court may then withdraw the restraining order. Though the underlying charge will remain.12
Note that it is important that you reserve your right to remain silent from the very beginning. Let your attorney do the talking because anything you say will be used against you.
Also note that you should not represent yourself or rely on a public defender who is too overworked to negotiate a good plea deal. An experienced private attorney will put in the time and energy to get you the best result possible – hopefully one that does not result in a DV on your record.
11. Are there resources for victims of DV in Colorado?
Victims of domestic violence offenses can seek help and support by calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1 (800) 799-7233 or text START to 88788.
Colorado-based resources and information for survivors of domestic violence include:
- Address Confidentiality Program (ACP) – A program for domestic violence victims to use confidential addresses.
- Advocate Safehouse Project – Domestic violence victim services in Garfield County, including Glenwood Springs.
- Advocates Against Domestic Assault – Domestic violence victim services in Huerfano County, including Trinidad.
- Advocates for Victims of Assault – Domestic violence victim services in Summit County, including Frisco.
- Advocates of Routt County – Domestic violence victim services in Routt County, including Steamboat Springs.
- The Alliance – Full range of domestic violence services in Salida, Buena Vista, Poncha Springs and related locales.
- Alternative Horizons, Inc. – Domestic violence victim services in Archuleta, La Plata, and San Juan Counties, including Durango.
- Alternatives to Violence Inc. – Domestic violence victim services in Loveland and Southern Larimer Counties, including Loveland.
- Arkansas Valley Resource Center – Domestic violence victim services in Bent, Crowley and Otero Counties, including La Junta.
- Bright Future Foundation – Domestic violence victim services in Eagle County, including Avon.
- Center for Community Safety and Resilience – Using research and evidence to drive public policy for thriving people and families.
- The Center for Trauma & Resilience – Mental and legal support for victims, including non-English speakers and VAWA immigrants.
- Colorado Legal Services, Migrant Farm Worker Division – Legal services for domestic violence victims who are migrant farm workers.
- The Crisis Center – Full range of domestic violence services in Douglas, Elbert, Lincoln and Arapahoe Counties, including Littleton.
- Deaf Overcoming Violence through Empowerment (DOVE) – Domestic violence services for deaf victims
- Denver Health Medical Center SANE Program – Domestic violence victim services in Denver, Adams, Araphahoe, and Jefferson Counties.
- Denver District Attorney Victim Services – Support and information for victims.
- Domestic Safety Resource Center – Domestic violence victim services in Baca, Cheyenne, Prowers, and Kiowa Counties, including Lamar.
- Domestic Violence Program (DVP) – Colorado Department of Health and Human Services – The DVP partners with communities to help protect domestic violence survivors and prevent domestic violence from occurring.
- Estes Valley Crisis Advocates – Domestic violence victim services in the Estes Valley area of Larimer County.
- Family Tree – Domestic violence victim services in Jefferson County, including Wheat Ridge.
- Haseya Advocate Program – Domestic violence services for Native/indigenous victims in El Paso County, including Colorado Springs.
- Hilltop Latimer House – Domestic violence victim services in Delta, Montrose, Mesa and Ouray Counties.
- The Initiative Colorado – This organization provides victim advocacy services to victims with disabilities who are suffering abuse or violence.
- Latina Safehouse – Advocacy and support for Latina domestic violence victims.
- Littleton Adventist Hospital – Medical-forensic exams for victims in Douglas, Elbert, Lincoln and Arapahoe Counties.
- Mile High Ministries – Supportive housing for people in need.
- Muslim Family Services of Colorado – Advocacy and support for Muslim victims.
- Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) – Colorado – The OVC is a government program supporting many programs and services focusing on helping crime victims.
- Open Heart Advocates – Domestic violence victim services in Moffat County, including Craig.
- PeaceWorks Inc – Domestic violence victim services in Jefferson and Park Counties, including Bailey.
- Porter Adventist Hospital – Medical-forensic exams for victims in Adams, Broomfield, Boulder, Denver, and Jefferson Counties.
- Project Hope of Gunnison – Domestic violence victim services in Gunnison and Hinsdale Counties.
- Project PAVE – Support services for school-aged victims.
- Project Safeguard – Legal services for victims in Denver, Broomfield, Adams, and Arapahoe Counties.
- Renew, Inc. – Intervention and education for victims.
- RESPONSE: Helping Survivors of Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault – Crisis line and housing for victims, serving Pitkin County including Aspen.
- Rise Above Violence – Services for domestic violence victims in Archulta, Hinsdale, and South Mineral Counties, including Pagosa Springs.
- Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center – Advocates for children in the courtroom as well as the classroom.
- Rose Andom Center – Full range of domestic violence services, based in Denver.
- Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence (SPAN) – Legal advocacy for domestic violence victims.
- SafeHouse Denver – Shelter for victims as well as advocacy and counseling.
- Safehouse, Inc. – Domestic Violence Shelter in Meeker.
- Sexual Assault Response Advocates Inc. (SARA) – Full range of domestic violence services, serving Morgan, Logan, Washington, Yuma, Phillips, Sedgwick, and Kit Carson Counties, including Fort Morgan.
- Sexual Assault Services Organization (SASO) – Advocacy for sexual assault survivors in La Plata, San Juan, and Archuleta Counties, including Durango.
- St. Anthony North Hospital SANE – Providing medical-forensic exams in Adams, Broomfield, Boulder, Denver, and Jefferson Counties.
- TESSA – Support and advocacy for partner and sexual violence victims, based in Colorado Springs.
- Tu Casa Inc. – Full range of domestic violence services in Alamosa County.
- Victim Outreach Incorporated – Domestic violence services available in Arvada, Edgewater, Golden, Lakeside, Mountain View, Wheatridge, and Colorado School of Mines.
- Violence Free Colorado (Formally Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence) – Offers training and policy initiatives throughout the state re. eliminating domestic violence.
- Voces Unidas for Justice – Safety services for Latina victims, based in Colorado Springs.
- Volunteers of America: Southwest Safehouse – Full range of domestic violence services serving La Plata County, including Durango.
National resources and information for survivors of domestic violence include:
- Advocacy – Battered Women’s Justice Program (BWJP) – This is a collective of national policy and practice centers focusing on gender-based violence and how it intersects with legal systems.
- Create a Safety Plan – National Domestic Violence Hotline – Resource for domestic violence victims on how to create a “safety plan” to remain safe and escape abuse.
- Dating Violence – Department of Justice – This government website offers definitions of what constitutes dating violence and how to seek help.
- Domestic Violence – Department of Justice – This government website offers definitions of what constitutes domestic violence and how to seek help.
- DomesticShelters.org – Directory of domestic violence shelters.
- Family Violence – Office of Justice Programs – This government website offers definitions of what constitutes family violence and how to seek help.
- FUTURES without Violence – Headquartered in San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and Boston, this organization provides programs to help end violence against women and children.
- Loveisrespect.org – Support and information for young adults about healthy relationships.
- National Alliance to End Sexual Violence – Informs the policy community in Washington, D.C. about laws impacting sexual violence.
- National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma, and Mental Health (CDVTMH) – CDVTMH provides training to help agency- and system-level responses to domestic violence survivors and their families.
- National Coalition Against Domestic Violence – Resources and information for victims.
- The National Domestic Violence Pro Bono Directory – Directory of free legal services.
- National Network to End Domestic Violence – An organization aimed as social change to end violence against women.
- Resources for Family Members, Friends, and Supporters – Joyful Heart Foundation – A guide on how to help family members or loved ones suffering from domestic abuse.
- Signs of Abuse – National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) – Information page on how to identify domestic violence.
- Violence Against Women – WHO – Information page by the World Health Organization on what constitutes violence against women and how WHO can help.
- WomensLaw.org – Legal information re. rape and domestic violence.
For more information, see our related articles:
- Does Colorado mandatory reporting apply to domestic violence?
- Is domestic violence a felony or a misdemeanor in Colorado?
- How can I get an expungement of a domestic violence conviction in Colorado?
- What class of crime is domestic violence in Colorado?
- Domestic violence classes in Colorado – What if I don’t do them?
- CRS 18-6-800.3 states that “domestic violence means an act or threatened act of violence upon a person with whom the actor is or has been involved in an intimate relationship. Domestic violence also includes any other crime … when used as a method of coercion, control, punishment, intimidation, or revenge directed against a person with whom the actor is or has been involved in an intimate relationship.” See, for example, People v. Smith (Colo. 2018) 416 P.3d 886. See, for example, People v. Throssel (2021) 2021 Colo. Discipl. LEXIS 61. See also People v. Cooper (Colo. 2021) 496 P.3d 430. See also People v. Ryan (Colo. 2022) 525 P.3d 673. See also Shelly Bradbury, Colorado’s domestic violence deaths spiked 44% in 2021, new report finds.
- CRS 18-6-803.7; CRS 18-6-801(3). See, for example, People v. Delfeld (2021) 2021 COA 131.
- See CRS 18-6-803.5. Prior to March 1, 2022, the penalties for class 1 misdemeanors included 6 to 18 months in jail and/or $500 to $5,000 in fines. SB21-271.
- See, for example, Fast Track Program, District Attorney, 18th Judicial District.
- CRS 18-6-801(7); see CRS 18-1.3-401(1)(a)(V)(A); CRS 18-1.3-401(1)(a)(III)(A). See also CRS 18-6-801.5.
- See, for example, People v. Betterton-Fike, (Office of Presiding Disciplinary Judge of the Supreme Court of Colorado, 2020) 479 P.3d 436.
- CRS 18-6-800.3, People v. Disher, (Colo. 2010) 224 P.3d 254.
- See CRS 18-6-801(3).
- CRS 18-1-1001. See also HB 21-1255.
- 8 USC 1227 (a)(2)(E)(1).
- CRS 24-72-702.
- See also People v. Cooper, (September 26, 2021) 2021 CO 69.