In Colorado, harassment can be charged as a crime under § CRS 18-9-111 if you intentionally bother, annoy or alarm someone through repeated contact, obscene gestures, hitting, taunting, or following in public. A conviction can be a petty offense or a misdemeanor.
Harassing a person because of his or her race, religion or disability is a more serious crime punishable by
- up to 364 days in jail and/or
- fines of up to $1,000.
Examples of criminal harassment:
- Spitting on someone else
- Calling a person repeatedly and then hanging up
- Following someone closely for several blocks
- Sending threatening text messages
- Repeatedly insulting someone to egg that person on to fight
The Colorado harassment statute states that:
This [law] is not intended to infringe upon any right guaranteed to any person by the first amendment to the United States constitution or to prevent the expression of any religious, political, or philosophical views.
In the sections below, our Denver Colorado criminal defense lawyers answer the following key questions:
- 1. What are Colorado harassment laws per CRS 18-9-111?
- 2. What are the penalties under the Colorado harassment statute?
- 3. What are common defenses?
- 4. Is the record sealable?
- 5. What is Kiana Arellano’s law?
Under the Colorado harassment statute, the crime has two elements (requirements). The first is that the defendant intends to harass, annoy, or alarm another person (the victim).1 The second element is that the defendant takes one of the following seven actions:
- Strikes, shoves, kicks, or subjects the victim to physical contact.2
- Makes an obscene gesture or remark to the victim in public (“offensive description of ultimate sexual acts”, such as anilingus, fellatio, and cunnilingus).
- Follows the victim in a public place.
- Calls the victim repeatedly, and there is no “purpose of legitimate conversation”.3
- Initiates communication repeatedly at inconvenient hours that invade the victim’s privacy. This can be in person or over the phone, a computer network, a computer system, electronic mail, or any electronic communication.
- Repeatedly taunting the victim in a way likely to provoke an unlawful response (“fighting words”).4
- Making obscene or threatening comments over the phone or internet (“cyber-bullying”).
Therefore, harassment is a broad offense that can take place in person or online, through words or actions.
Example: 18-year-old Jeffrey is the high-school bully. One day he throws Tom against the lockers. Later he pantomimes having sex to Jennifer. He makes 20 telephone calls with obscene language to Victoria. He follows Seymour all the way home just to make him nervous. He texts Doris all through the night while she should be asleep. He keeps calling Henry the R-word at school to taunt him. And through instant message he threatens to beat up Zack the next day during lunch. Each of these actions qualifies as harassment under CRS 18-9-111.
Telephone harassment typically occurs in calls the defendant makes. But it is possible to commit harassment in calls the defendant receives. Examples include blowing an air horn into the mouthpiece when a telemarketer calls, or sexually harassing a bill collector.
Also see our criminal law article on domestic violence harassment. This is harassment between past or present spouses, lovers, or co-parents.
Workplace sexual harassment is usually a civil rather than a criminal matter. But sometimes, harassment involves unwanted sexual touching. Then, the defendant can face charges for unlawful sexual contact (CRS 18-3-404).
|In a public place while directing obscene language or making an obscene gesture to or at another person||petty offense: |
|Following a person in a public place or unlawfully touching someone||class 1 misdemeanor: |
|Discrimination-based harassment due to the victim’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, physical or mental disability, or sexual orientation||class 1 misdemeanor: |
|All other forms of harassment||class 2 misdemeanor: |
Also note that victims can also bring lawsuits against alleged harassers, especially if there is bodily injury or property damage.
Because harassment is such a broad crime, the best defense strategies focus on the criminal charges’ specific facts. Depending on the case, five common defenses include arguing that:
- The defendant had no intent to harass, annoy, or alarm anyone.
- The defendant was falsely accused by the victim or someone else.
- The victim misidentified the defendant as the real harasser.
- The defendant did not touch or threaten anyone.
- The victim had no reasonable expectation of privacy.
Many harassment defendants argue that the First Amendment protects them. An example of protected free speech is protesting. Another is making consumer complaints. But free speech becomes harassment when the victim reasonably expects to be left alone. As the Colorado Supreme Court noted:
“The … offense is the thrusting of an offensive and unwanted communication on one who cannot ignore it.”6
Example: Jeremy is angry Amber broke up with him. So he gets a megaphone. He stands on the street of her private residence. And he yells at her for hours. Finally a peace officer arrests him. Jeremy maintains he was exercising his constitutional rights. But he crossed the line into harassment. Amber has a reasonable expectation of privacy in her home. His yelling intruded on her ability to enjoy her private property.
Jeremy, in the above example, would probably face charges for disorderly conduct (CRS 18-9-106) as well.
Ultimately, most cases of harassment are resolved without a trial. If the defense attorney can show the district attorney their case is weak, the charge could be reduced or dismissed.
Criminal harassment convictions can be sealed from the defendant’s criminal record in Colorado. But there is a waiting period.
Class 1 misdemeanor convictions can be sealed three (3) years after the case ends. Class 2 misdemeanor convictions can be sealed two (2) years after the case ends. Petty offense convictions can be sealed one (1) year after the case ends.
Note that if the case gets dismissed – meaning there is no conviction – then the defendant can pursue a record seal immediately.7
The record seal process itself can take several weeks. But everyone is advised to clear their record if possible. Not having a criminal record increases employment prospects.
Kiana Arellano’s law refers to CRS 18-9-111(3). This section prohibits cyber-bullying.
Kiana’s law comes from Kiana Arellano. In 2013, she was a high school sophomore. She was also a cheerleader. But classmates bullied her online. Kiana tried to hang herself. She survived. But the lack of oxygen left her paraplegic. It resulted in a severe brain injury. She has no ability to talk.
At the time, Colorado had no law against cyber-bullying. So the state legislature passed Kiana Arellano’s Law. It took effect in July of 2015.8
See our related article Colorado’s Harassment Statute – What You Need To Know.
- Bolles v. People (1975) 189 Colo. 394, 541 P.2d 80. See also People v. Wright, 2021 COA 106. People v. Moreno (2022) 2022 CO 15 (“We hold that the phrase “intended to harass” in subsection (1)(e) is unconstitutionally overbroad”).
- People v. Peay, (Colo. App. 2000) 5 P.3d 398.
- People ex rel. VanMeveren v. County Court (1976) 191 Colo. 201, 551 P.2d 716.
- CRS 18-9-111. The language of the statute reads as follows:
(1) A person commits harassment if, with intent to harass, annoy, or alarm another person, he or she: (a) Strikes, shoves, kicks, or otherwise touches a person or subjects him to physical contact; or (b) In a public place directs obscene language or makes an obscene gesture to or at another person; or (c) Follows a person in or about a public place; or (d) Repealed. (e) Directly or indirectly initiates communication with a person or directs language toward another person, anonymously or otherwise, by telephone, telephone network, data network, text message, instant message, computer, computer network, computer system, or other interactive electronic medium in a manner intended to harass or threaten bodily injury or property damage, or makes any comment, request, suggestion, or proposal by telephone, computer, computer network, computer system, or other interactive electronic medium that is obscene; or (f) Makes a telephone call or causes a telephone to ring repeatedly, whether or not a conversation ensues, with no purpose of legitimate conversation; or (g) Makes repeated communications at inconvenient hours that invade the privacy of another and interfere in the use and enjoyment of another’s home or private residence or other private property; or (h) Repeatedly insults, taunts, challenges, or makes communications in offensively coarse language to, another in a manner likely to provoke a violent or disorderly response. (1.5) As used in this section, unless the context otherwise requires, “obscene” means a patently offensive description of ultimate sexual acts or solicitation to commit ultimate sexual acts, whether or not said ultimate sexual acts are normal or perverted, actual or simulated, including masturbation, cunnilingus, fellatio, anilingus, or excretory functions. (2) (a) A person who violates subsection (1)(a) or (1)(c) of this section or violates any provision of subsection (1) of this section with the intent to intimidate or harass another person, in whole or in part, because of that person’s actual or perceived race; color; religion; ancestry; national origin; physical or mental disability, as defined in section ; or sexual orientation, as defined in section , commits a class 1 misdemeanor. (b) A person who violates subsection (1)(e), (1)(f), (1)(g), or (1)(h) of this section commits a class 2 misdemeanor. (c) A person who violates subsection (1)(b) of this section commits a petty offense. (3) Any act prohibited by paragraph (e) of subsection (1) of this section may be deemed to have occurred or to have been committed at the place at which the telephone call, electronic mail, or other electronic communication was either made or received. (4) to (6) Repealed. (7) Paragraph (e) of subsection (1) of this section shall be known and may be cited as “Kiana Arellano’s Law”. (8) This section is not intended to infringe upon any right guaranteed to any person by the first amendment to the United States constitution or to prevent the expression of any religious, political, or philosophical views.
- Prior to March 1, 2022, harassment was usually a class 3 misdemeanor carrying up to 6 months in jail and/or $50 to $750 in fines. SB21-271.
- People v. Weeks (1979) 197 Colo. 175 (1979). See also People v. Pearson, (January 10, 2022) 2022 CO 4 (“[A] defendant can assert self-defense as an affirmative defense to the crime of harassment so long as there is some credible evidence to allow a reasonable jury to find that they acted with intent to alarm, as outlined in section 18-9-111(1)(a), as a means of self-defense.”)
- CRS 24-72.
- Kevin Simpson, How a cyberbullying law in Colorado was tweaked to be more effective, Denver Post (April 22, 2016).