In Colorado, a person commits statutory rape if he or she engages in sexual penetration with a minor under the legal age of consent of 17 years old. Statutory rape is prosecuted as sexual assault (CRS 18-3-402). The only exceptions are if
- the persons are married, or
- they fall within Colorado’s Romeo and Juliet law.
A violation of Colorado’s statutory rape laws is a felony and requires defendants to register as a sex offender. But it may be possible to get the charges reduced or dismissed through a plea bargain.
In this article, our Denver Colorado criminal defense lawyers answer these frequently asked questions:
- 1. What is the age of consent in Colorado?
- 2. What is statutory rape?
- 3. Are there exceptions?
- 4. What are the penalties?
- 5. Is sex offender registration required?
- 6. What are the defenses?
- 7. Related Offenses
Also, see our article on the laws and rules for dating minors in Colorado.
1. What is the age of consent in Colorado?
The age of consent under Colorado law is 17 years of age. People under 17 cannot legally consent to have sex. But there are some exceptions under state criminal law (explained below in section 3).1
2. What is statutory rape?
The legal definition of statutory rape is sexual penetration or intrusion with someone who is under the age of 17. Under Colorado state law, statutory rape is prosecuted as a type of sexual assault. It makes no difference if the sex itself was consensual.2
Sexual penetration or intrusion includes such sexual acts as:
- Sexual intercourse (vaginal sex);
- Anal sex;
- Oral sex (fellatio, cunnilingus, anilingus); or
- Inserting fingers or objects into orifices
In many cases, the underage person never reports the incident. Instead, it is often the child’s parents, teachers, or jealous exes who notify the authorities.
3. Are there exceptions?
Yes. There are two exceptions to the age of consent law in Colorado:
- The “close-in-age” exception (a.k.a. age exemption), and
- The marriage exception
These Romeo and Juliet laws apply only to consensual sex. There is no close-in-age or marriage exception to forcible rape.
3.1. Close-in-age exception
Children under 15 may legally consent to sex with people less than 4 years older. For example, a 14-year-old can have sex with a 17-year-old. This is because the older individual is not more than 4 years older.
Meanwhile, children aged 15 or 16 may legally consent to sex with people less than 10 years older. For example, a 16-year-old could consent to have sex with a 25-year-old. This is because the adult is less than 10 years older.
3.2. Marriage exception
Married people may legally consent to have sex with their spouses. Their ages do not matter.3
4. What are the penalties?
The sentence for statutory rape depends on the age of the victim.
Statutory rape is a class 4 felony if:
- The victim was less than 15 years old, and
- The defendant is at least 4 years older than the victim.
The penalty for a class 4 felony is two to six years in Colorado State Prison and/or fines of $2,000 to $500,000.
Statutory rape is a class 6 felony if:
- The victim is at least 15 but less than 17 years old, and
- The defendant is at least 10 years older than the victim.
Penalties for a class 6 felony include one year to 18 months in prison and/or fines from $1,000 to $100,000.4
5. Is sex offender registration required?
People convicted of felony sexual assault must register as sex offenders. Felony sex offenders’ names are publicly searchable on the Colorado Bureau of Investigation’s Sex Offender Registry.
Sexual offenders have to register with the local chief of police or county sheriff. This includes providing their:
- Date of birth,
- Place of employment,
- Email addresses, and
- Instant messaging or chat room identities
Sexual offenders must re-register every year within five days of their birthday. They also have to re-register if they move or start work at an institution of higher education.
Sexual assault convictions also subject the defendant to lifetime supervision. But note that people convicted of a statutory rape sexual assault as a class 6 felony may be able to petition for removal from the registry 10 years after the case ends.5
6. What are the defenses?
Two common arguments for fighting statutory rape charges are:
- No sexual penetration or intrusion occurred, or
- The defendant was falsely accused
The evidence in these cases typically comes down to “he said/she said” testimony. There are rarely video recordings or eyewitness accounts. This could make it difficult for the prosecutor to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Verbal consent is not a defense. It does not matter if the victim instigated the sexual activity or was consenting to it. Underage people may not legally consent to sexual contact.
Mistake of age (which is a type of “mistake of fact”) is also not a defense: It makes no difference if the victim lied about being 17 or looked like an adult. Statutory rape is a strict liability crime and can be sustained even if the defendant believed the other person was of age.
See our related article about the statute of limitations for sexual assault in Colorado.
7. Related Offenses
7.1 Sexual Assault on a Child
Sexual assault on a child (CRS 18-3-405) is similar to statutory rape. But it does not require sexual penetration. Instead, it requires knowingly subjecting a child to “any sexual contact” if:
- The victim is less than 15 years old, and
- The defendant is at least 4 years older than the victim
Sexual assault of a child is typically a class 4 felony. But it becomes a class 3 felony if the defendant used either:
- Threats, or
- Threat of retaliation
A conviction requires registering as a sexual offender.
Incest (CRS 18-6-301) occurs when someone knowingly marries or has sexual contact with a family member. “Family” includes a:
- Natural or adopted child,
- Step-child at least 21 years old,
- Whole-blood or half-blood sibling,
- Niece, or
- Any ancestor or descendant
Incest is a class 4 felony carrying sexual offender registration.
7.3. Internet exploitation of a child
Internet exploitation of a child (CRS 18-3-405.4) is using the internet to encourage a child to masturbate or to watch the defendant masturbate. Internet exploitation of a child is a class 4 felony carrying sexual offender registration.
In California? See our article on California statutory rape laws (Penal Code 261.5 PC). Also go to our article on California’s age of consent laws.
In Nevada? See our articles about the age of consent in Nevada (NRS 200.364) and statutory sexual seduction (NRS 200.368).
- CRS 18-3-402. See also Wills v. People (1937) 100 Colo. 127, 66 P.2d 329. See also In re. Marriage of J.M.H. (Court of Appeals of Colorado, Division Three, 2006) 143 P.3d 1116.
- Same; see also People v. Chavez, (1972) 179 Colo. 316, 500 P.2d 365. Before March 1, 2022, statutory rape with a 15- or 16-year old victim and an adult at least 10 years older was an extraordinary risk class 1 misdemeanor carrying up to 24 months in jail and fines of up to $5,000. SB21-271.
- CRS criminal code 16-22-103; CRS 16-22-112(2)(b)(II).