Updated February 26, 2020
18-6-800.3 C.R.S. is the Colorado law that defines domestic violence (DV). Domestic violence is not treated as an independent crime. Rather, DV is a sentencing enhancement. It increases the punishment for any offense against current or former spouses or dating partners.
Example: A man repeatedly follows his ex-girlfriend to her home. The man then gets charged with stalking with a DV enhancement. The stalking charge is for following the victim. And the DV enhancement is because the man and victim used to be significant others.
Section 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.
In addition to facing fines and prison for the underlying crime, DV defendants may have to attend DV counseling. And while the charges are pending, they will have a protection order taken out against them.
Defendants under a DV restraining order may be prevented from having guns or going home if they live with the accuser.
Common arguments to fight DV-enhanced charges include:
- The defendant acted in self-defense;
- The defendant lacked criminal intent (“accident”); or
- The defendant was falsely accused
Below our Denver criminal defense lawyers answer these frequently-asked-questions:
- 1. What are common DV charges in Colorado?
- 2. What are the penalties for a DV conviction?
- 3. How is an “intimate relationship” defined?
- 4. Will it cause a loss of gun rights?
- 5. Will it cause deportation of a non-citizen?
- 6. Can a conviction be expunged or sealed?
- 7. What are common defense strategies?
Eight crimes which commonly include the domestic violence enhancement are:
- Assault (18-3-202 -- 204 C.R.S.)
- Stalking a.k.a. “Vonnie’s Law” (18-3-602 C.R.S.)
- Harassment (18-9-111 C.R.S.)
- Child abuse (18-6-401 C.R.S.)
- Sexual contact (18-3-404 C.R.S.)
- Menacing (18-3-206 C.R.S.)
- False imprisonment (18-3-303 C.R.S.)
- Elder abuse (18-6.5-103 C.R.S.)
But the domestic violence enhancement can apply to any criminal charge. Even crimes against pets or property. All that matters is the defendant allegedly used violence to coerce, punish, or control an (ex)intimate partner:
Example: Jeff and his boyfriend Rex are in a fight. Jeff is so angry he goes out and bashes in Rex’s car windows. Jeff could then face charges for criminal mischief (18-4-501 C.R.S.) for damaging the car. And since Rex’s violent actions were meant to punish his boyfriend, the prosecutor would also bring a DV enhancement against him.
If Jeff and Rex in the above example were platonic friends, then the DV enhancement would not apply. Instead, Jeff would just face prosecution for criminal mischief.
Since DV is just an enhancement, there are no specific penalties. The punishment depends on the underlying charge. But a DV enhancement triggers the following consequences as well:
- Colorado is a mandatory DV arrest state. As soon as the police suspect someone of DV, they must arrest him/her. It does not matter if the victim recants or does not want to press charges.
- A DV charge triggers a mandatory restraining order.1 While the order is active, the defendant may not have alcohol and must avoid the accuser.2 It is a misdemeanor to violate a protective order (18-6-803.5 C.R.S.). The penalty is up to $5,000 and up to 18 months in jail.3
- If the defendant gets convicted, the judge may order that the defendant complete a DV 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.4 This is a class 5 felony, carrying:
- 1 to 3 years in Colorado State Prison (with mandatory 2-year parole),5 and/or
- A fine of $1,000 to $100,0006
This sentence is in addition to the one for the underlying crime.
For purposes of Colorado’s domestic violence law, an intimate relationship is one based on a romantic attachment or shared parental status. Intimate relationships include those people have with:
- 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
A sexual relationship may be an indicator of an intimate relationship. But a sexual relationship is not required.
Example: Betty decides to break up with Joe because he is pressuring her into having sex. Angry, Joe calls Betty hundreds of time a day to give her grief. Here, Joe could face DV harassment charges. Even though they never had sex, the DV enhancement applies because they used to date.
The following do not generally count as intimate relationships unless they also fall into one of the above-listed categories:
It depends on the case and what stage it is in.
DV defendants usually may not possess firearms while there is a restraining order against them. If they have any, they must surrender them to the police, a dealer, or a private party.
If the case gets dismissed and the restraining order lifted, the defendant may have guns again. And the police will return any guns the defendant surrendered earlier.
But if the defendant gets convicted of a felony or a violent misdemeanor, the defendant will lose gun rights permanently. Though if the defendant gets convicted of a non-violent misdemeanor, the defendant may be able to keep his/her gun rights.8
Example: Javier is fighting with his baby’s mother. He leaves angry 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.
Domestic violence is usually deportable.9 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 dismissed.
Learn more about the criminal defense of immigrants in Colorado.
The only DV-related convictions that may be sealed in Colorado are municipal court cases. There is a three-year waiting period. And the defendant must not have picked up any new cases during those three years.
Any DV-related convictions in non-municipal court cases remain on the defendant’s record forever.
But if the case gets dismissed, then defendants may pursue a record seal immediately. And the case can be in any court, not just municipal. DV-related cases are sealable when:
- The defendant is acquitted at trial;
- The charge is dismissed pursuant to a diversion or deferred judgment;
- The charge otherwise gets dismissed through a plea bargain; or
- The prosecution declines to press charges10
Learn about how to get a Colorado criminal record seal.
The best way to win a DV 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 “victim” falsely accused the defendant out of anger
Then if the D.A. drops the assault charge, the DV enhancement automatically disappears.
To specifically eliminate a DV enhancement, 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 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 DV enhancement, the court may then withdraw the restraining order. But the underlying charge will remain.
Call a Colorado criminal defense attorney…
Accused of domestic violence? We invite you to contact us for a free consultation. Just fill out the form on this page or call us at our convenient Denver home office:
Colorado Legal Defense Group
4047 Tejon Street
Denver CO 80211
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 violence” laws (NRS 200.485).