In Colorado, police officers who use excessive force can face criminal charges.
Under CRS § 18-8-803, if the force used exceeds the degree of force allowed to police officers, they may be charged with a criminal offense like any other citizen.
Under CRS § 18-8-802, other officers are required to report the use of excessive force by other officers.
In this article, our Denver Colorado criminal defense lawyers will address:
- 1. What is excessive force?
- 2. How much force are police allowed to use?
- 3. What are the penalties for use of excessive force?
- 4. Do police have a duty to report the use of force by other officers?
- 5. What are the penalties for failing to report the use of force?
- 6. Related Offenses
Under Colorado law, “excessive force” means physical force used by a peace officer that exceeds the degree of physical force permitted by law. The use of excessive force is presumed when a police officer continues to apply physical force in excess of the force permitted to a person who has been rendered incapable of resisting arrest.
If a peace officer uses excessive force in pursuit of their law enforcement duties, they shall be subject to the criminal laws of Colorado to the same degree as any other citizen. This includes
- assault and
Police officers are allowed to use physical force
- when making an arrest or
- in preventing an escape.2
The amount of force allowed depends on the type of force used and the threat to the police officer or a third person.
A peace officer is justified in using reasonable and appropriate physical force upon another person when he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to
- make an arrest,
- prevent an arrested person from making an escape, or
- defend the officer or another from what he or she believes to be the use of imminent physical force.
A peace officer is justified in using deadly physical force only when the officer believes it is reasonably necessary to
- defend the officer or another from the use of imminent deadly physical force, or
- make an arrest or prevent an escape from someone who has committed a felony involving the use of a deadly weapon or indicates a likelihood to inflict serious bodily injury or endanger human life.3
An officer is justified in using a chokehold on another person only when he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to effect an arrest or prevent an escape of someone who
- has committed a felony involving the use of a deadly weapon,
- is attempting escape by use of physical force, or
- indicates a likelihood to inflict serious bodily injury or endanger human life.4
See our related article about citizen’s arrests in Colorado.
The penalties for use of excessive force depend on
- the amount of force used,
- the victim, and
- the injuries involved.
If the police officer exceeds the degree of force permitted by law, they may face common criminal charges like any other individual. This includes the criminal offenses of
- murder, or
Second-degree murder in Colorado involves the knowing killing of another without premeditation.5 The penalties for second-degree murder include
- 4 to 48 years in prison and
- fines of up to $1 million.
Manslaughter involves recklessly causing the death of another.6 Penalties include
- 2 to 16 years in prison and
- fines of up to $500,000.
Assault is charged in the first, second, or third-degree, depending on the specific facts of the case. Penalties for assault depend on the degree.
A police officer who witnesses another police officer using excessive force must report the use of force to the officer’s immediate supervisor. This includes when a police officer is carrying out their law enforcement duties in:
- Making an arrest
- Placing a person under detention
- Taking a person into custody
- Booking any person
- In the process of crowd control
A police officer has a duty, at a minimum, to report the
- time, date, place of the occurrence,
- identity of the victim,
- description of participants,
- description of the events and
- the force used.
An officer is required to report the occurrence within 10 days of the use of excessive force.
Failing to report the use of force by a police officer is a class 2 misdemeanor. Under CRS 18-8-802, a conviction for failing to report the excessive use of force is punishable by
- up to 120 days in jail and/or
- a fine of up to $750.7
Under CRS 18-8-803, police officers are subject to the same criminal penalties if they use excessive force. This includes the related offense of assault. In Colorado, assault is charged in the first, second, or third-degree, depending on
- the seriousness of the injury,
- weapons used, and
- the specific victim.
Assault in the first degree involves intentionally causing serious bodily injury with a deadly weapon or disfiguring another seriously and permanently. First-degree assault also includes engaging in conduct that creates a grave risk of death to another, causing serious bodily injury.8
First-degree assault is a class 3 felony. The penalties for first-degree assault include
- up to 32 years in prison and
- a fine of up to $750,000.
Assault in the second degree involves intentionally causing serious bodily injury without a deadly weapon, or causing bodily injury to another.9
Second-degree assault is a class 4 felony. The penalties for second-degree assault include
- 2 to 6 years in prison and
- a fine of up to $500,000.
Assault in the third degree involves knowingly or recklessly causing bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon, or with intent to harass or annoy, causing another to come in contact with bodily fluids or toxic substances.10
- up to 18 months in jail and/or
- a fine of up to $1,000.
- C.R.S. 18-8-803
- C.R.S. 18-1-707
- C.R.S. 18-1-707(2)
- C.R.S. 18-1-707(2.5)
- C.R.S. 18-3-103
- C.R.S. 18-3-104
- C.R.S. 18-8-802. Prior to March 1, 2022, violating CRS 18-8-802 was a class 1 misdemeanor carrying 6 to 18 months in jail and/or $500 to $5,000 in fines. SB21-271.
- C.R.S. 18-3-202
- C.R.S. 18-3-203
- C.R.S. 18-3-204. Prior to March 1, 2022, the maximum penalty for 3rd-degree assault was 24 months. SB21-271.