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) in Colorado is not treated as an independent crime. Rather, DV is a sentencing enhancement or aggravator. It increases the punishment for any offense committed against current or former spouses or dating partners.
Colorado is a mandatory arrest state. This means police must arrest anyone they have probable cause to believe committed domestic violence. It does not matter if the alleged victim
- recants or
- doesn’t want to press charges.
While DV charges are pending, defendants will have a protection order taken out against them.
Ten crimes that commonly include the domestic violence enhancement are:
- Assault (CRS 18-3-202 – 204)
- Stalking a.k.a. “Vonnie’s Law” (CRS 18-3-602)
- Harassment (CRS 18-9-111)
- Child abuse (CRS 18-6-401)
- Sexual contact (CRS 18-3-404)
- Menacing (CRS 18-3-206)
- False imprisonment (CRS 18-3-303)
- Elder abuse (CRS 18-6.5-103)
- Sexual assault (CRS 18-3-402)
- Violating a restraining order (CRS 18-6-803.5)
But 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 blackmail),
- technological abuse (such as cyber-stalking), and
- emotional abuse through harassment.
Learn more about the legal definition of domestic violence in Colorado.
Yes, a DV charge always triggers a mandatory protection order. While the order is active, the defendant 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
3. Are DV cases fast-tracked?
Yes. Domestic violence cases in Colorado are fast-tracked. This means that:
- The police fill out a police report the same day as the arrest; and
- The defendant enters 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 defendants treatment 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. The judge may order that the defendant 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 the defendant 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 the defendant’s:
- job opportunities,
- professional license,6
- child custody 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 the defendant out of jail so he/she 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?
DV defendants usually may not possess firearms while there is a restraining order against them. So they must surrender their guns to law enforcement, a dealer, or a private party. Then if the case gets dismissed and the restraining order lifted, the defendant’s 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. But 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. Can a domestic violence conviction be expunged or sealed?
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, the defendant must not have picked up any new cases.
Any DV-related convictions in non-municipal court remain on the defendant’s record forever.
But 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, the defendant may argue that:
- It was an act of self-defense;
- The incident was an accident; or
- The alleged victim falsely accused the defendant 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, the defendant can show that the accuser was never in an intimate relationship with him/her. Perhaps the accuser falsely claimed to be involved with the defendant. Or perhaps the police officer wrongly presumed they 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. But the underlying charge will remain.12
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. Domestic abuse victims can also find resources at Violence Free Colorado.
Additional resources and information for survivors of domestic violence include:
- Domestic Violence Program – Colorado Department of Health and Human Services
- The Initiative Colorado
- Office for Victims of Crime – Colorado
- Domestic Violence – Department of Justice
- Dating Violence – Department of Justice
- Family Violence – Office of Justice Programs
- Health Care/Medical Care-based Domestic Violence Programs
- National Center on Domestic Violence, Trauma, and Mental Health
- Advocacy – Battered Women’s Justice Program
- Violence Against Women – WHO
- Webinars – Futures Without Violence
- Signs of Abuse – National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
- Create a Safety Plan – National Domestic Violence Hotline
- Resources for Family Members, Friends, and Supporters – Joyful Heart Foundation
Call a Colorado criminal defense attorney…
Accused of violating Colorado domestic violence laws? Our Denver criminal defense attorneys invite you to contact us. Just fill out the form on this page or call us at our convenient Denver law offices:
Colorado Legal Defense Group
4047 Tejon Street
Denver, CO 80211
We also have law offices in Colorado Springs and Greeley.
See our related article, Does Colorado mandatory reporting apply to domestic violence?
In California? See our article on corporal injury to a spouse or cohabitant (Penal Code 273.5 PC).
In Nevada? See our article on “battery domestic abuse” laws (NRS 200.485).
- 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 Shelly Bradbury, Colorado’s domestic violence deaths spiked 44% in 2021, new report finds, Denver Post ().
- 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, 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.