17 years of age
In Colorado, the age of consent to have sex legally is seventeen (17) years old. However, there is also a close-in-age exception (Romeo and Juliet law), by which a 15 or 16-year-old may legally consent to sex with someone less than 10 years older, and minors 14 and younger may legally consent to sex with someone less than four years older. Otherwise, having sex with a non-spouse under the age of 17 constitutes the crime of statutory rape.
To help you better understand the law, our Denver Colorado criminal defense lawyers discuss, below:
- 1. What is the age of consent in Colorado?
- 2. Does it matter that the underage person wanted to have sex and consented?
- 3. Are there certain exceptions to the law in Colorado?
- 4. What is statutory rape?
- 5. How do I defend myself against these charges?
The legal age of consent in Colorado is seventeen (17).1
This means that a person 17 years of age or older may consent to have sexual intercourse with any other person, regardless of age. A 17-year old could choose to engage in sexual intercourse with:
- an 18-year old,
- a 30-year old, or
- a 90-year old.
Once a person reaches the minimum age of 17, consensual sex is permitted with any other person who is also above the age of 17.
The purpose of the Colorado consent laws is to:
- protect young individuals from sexual predators as well as people in a position of trust; and
- to deter adults from seeking out sexual intercourse with Colorado’s youth, who may not have the mental health and maturity to make such an important decision about their bodies.
Younger children are not generally mature enough to understand the impacts of the decision to have sex, including:
- unexpected pregnancy;
- social stigma; and
- sexually transmitted diseases.
No. Even if the sex is consensual, a person who engages in sexual intercourse with a person under the age of sexual consent is guilty of violating Colorado statutory rape laws even if the other person consented to the sexual acts.
Often, criminal defendants will argue that not only did the underage person consent but that he or she offered and initiated the sexual encounter. The fact it was not forcible rape does not matter.
If the person is underage, he or she cannot legally consent, even if the underage person does consent.
Many criminal defendants argue they did not know the age of the person, but this is no defense. This is true even when the person lies about his or her age.
Under Colorado law, a defendant’s knowledge or lack of knowledge of the other person’s age does not matter.
Certain exceptions exist to the age of consent laws in Colorado, but they are very specific and limited.
The close in age exception to the age of consent law recognizes that those who are close in age should not necessarily be charged with sex crimes or sexual abuse due to a legal consent question. This is also referred to as the “Romeo and Juliet” law in Colorado.
A young person who:
- is under the age of 15
- can choose to have sexual intercourse
- with a person who is less than 4 years older.2
Example: Claire is a 14-year-old and chooses to have sex with Anthony, who is 17. Although she is below the technical age of consent, Anthony is less than four years older (and therefore within Colorado’s age exemption law), so they can choose to engage in sexual intercourse without violating statutory rape laws. If instead, Anthony was 21, he could be charged criminally, as Claire is too young to consent to have sex with him.
If the person is 15 or 16,
- he or she can consent
- to engage in sexual intercourse
- with a person who is less than 10 years older.3
This means that a person who is 16 years old could consent to have sex with someone who is 25 years old because the older person is less than 10 years older than the younger person.
Those individuals who are legally married can consent to sexual intercourse with one another. The marriage must be a legal, valid marriage in order to qualify for this exception. (Colorado does not recognize common law marriage when one of the partners is under 18.)
You must be 18 years of age or older to get married in Colorado, with the following exceptions:
- a 16-year-old can marry with the consent of both parents or the legal guardian; or
- judicial approval if a person under the age of 16 wishes to be married, along with the consent of both parents or the legal guardian.4
If a person under the age of consent is legally married, even when the age difference is above 10 years, that person can legally consent to have sex with his or her spouse.
Statutory rape is a term that means that someone had sex with another person who was not old enough to give legal consent. There are six Colorado crimes that may be prosecuted in statutory rape cases depending on the facts:
Statutory Rape Crime
|Sexual assault (CRS 18-3-402) || |
If the child is 15 or 16, and the defendant is at least 10 years older, consensual sex is a class 6 felony:
If the child is 14 or younger, and the defendant is at least 4 years older, consensual sex is a class 4 felony:
|Sexual assault on a child (CRS 18-3-405) || |
Class 4 felony:
If the defendant used force or threatened imminent death, serious bodily injury, extreme pain, or kidnapping – or the sexual contact was part of a pattern – this crime is a class 3 felony:
|Sexual assault of a child by one in a position of trust (CRS 18-3-405.3) || |
If the minor is 15 , 16, or 17, this crime is a class 4 felony:
If the minor is under 15 or if the sexual contact was part of a pattern of sexual abuse, this crime is a class 3 felony:
|Sexual exploitation of a child (CRS 18-6-403) || |
A 1st-time offense is a class 5 felony:
Subsequent offenses – or possession of movies or more than 20 still images – is a class 4 felony:
Making or distributing the material is a class 3 felony:
|Internet sexual exploitation of a child (CRS 18-3-405.4) || |
Class 4 felony:
|Procurement of a child for sexual exploitation (CRS 18-6-404) || |
Class 3 felony:
In addition, defendants convicted of any of these sex crimes will have to register on the Colorado Sex Offender Registry.5
Colorado judges are aware that there are people who are wrongly accused, and there are legal defenses that can be used to defend you against criminal charges.
- Age of Consent: You can argue and prove that the individual was actually of age to consent, and did consent to the sexual encounter.
- No sexual conduct or contact occurred: You can show that no sexual encounter ever occurred between yourself and the alleged “victim.”
- False Accusations: Not all people accused of a crime by the supposed victim are guilty. Motivation to lie can be strong when a person feels spurned or rejected. There may even be components of revenge after a breakup, or some other reason the other person wants to get at you.
Note that honestly believing the child was at least 17 – called mistake of fact – is not a defense. This is because statutory rape is a strict liability crime.6
For questions about Colorado’s age of consent laws or to confidentially discuss your case with one of our skilled Colorado criminal defense attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us. (For California cases, please see our page on age of consent laws in California). You may also find useful discussion in our article on laws and rules for dating minors in Colorado.
We represent clients in and around Denver, Colorado Springs, Aurora, Fort Collins, Lakewood, and several nearby cities. Disclaimer: Results cannot be guaranteed.
- CRS 18-3-402 – Sexual Assault
(1) Any actor who knowingly inflicts sexual intrusion or sexual penetration on a victim commits sexual assault if:
(a) The actor causes submission of the victim by means of sufficient consequence reasonably calculated to cause submission against the victim’s will; or
(b) The actor knows that the victim is incapable of appraising the nature of the victim’s conduct; or
(c) The actor knows that the victim submits erroneously, believing the actor to be the victim’s spouse; or
(d) At the time of the commission of the act, the victim is less than fifteen years of age and the actor is at least four years older than the victim and is not the spouse of the victim; or
(e) At the time of the commission of the act, the victim is at least fifteen years of age but less than seventeen years of age and the actor is at least ten years older than the victim and is not the spouse of the victim; or
(f) The victim is in custody of law or detained in a hospital or other institution and the actor has supervisory or disciplinary authority over the victim and uses this position of authority to coerce the victim to submit, unless the act is incident to a lawful search; or
(g) The actor, while purporting to offer a medical service, engages in treatment or examination of a victim for other than a bona fide medical purpose or in a manner substantially inconsistent with reasonable medical practices; or
(h) The victim is physically helpless and the actor knows the victim is physically helpless and the victim has not consented.
(2) Sexual assault is a class 4 felony, except as provided in subsections (3), (3.5), (4), and (5) of this section.
(3) If committed under the circumstances of subsection (1)(e) of this section, sexual assault is a class 6 felony. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a person convicted of subsection (1)(e) of this section is eligible to petition for removal from the registry in accordance with section 16-22-113 (1)(b).
(3.5) Sexual assault is a class 3 felony if committed under the circumstances described in paragraph (h) of subsection (1) of this section.
(4) Sexual assault is a class 3 felony if it is attended by any one or more of the following circumstances:
(a) The actor causes submission of the victim through the actual application of physical force or physical violence; or
(b) The actor causes submission of the victim by threat of imminent death, serious bodily injury, extreme pain, or kidnapping, to be inflicted on anyone, and the victim believes that the actor has the present ability to execute these threats; or(c) The actor causes submission of the victim by threatening to retaliate in the future against the victim, or any other person, and the victim reasonably believes that the actor will execute this threat. As used in this paragraph
(c), “to retaliate” includes threats of kidnapping, death, serious bodily injury, or extreme pain; or
(d) The actor has substantially impaired the victim’s power to appraise or control the victim’s conduct by employing, without the victim’s consent, any drug, intoxicant, or other means for the purpose of causing submission.
(e) (Deleted by amendment, L. 2002, p. 1578, § 2, effective July 1, 2002.)
(5)(a) Sexual assault is a class 2 felony if any one or more of the following circumstances exist:
(I) In the commission of the sexual assault, the actor is physically aided or abetted by one or more other persons; or
(II) The victim suffers serious bodily injury; or
(III) The actor is armed with a deadly weapon or an article used or fashioned in a manner to cause a person to reasonably believe that the article is a deadly weapon or represents verbally or otherwise that the actor is armed with a deadly weapon and uses the deadly weapon, article, or representation to cause submission of the victim.
(b)(I) If a defendant is convicted of sexual assault pursuant to this subsection (5), the court shall sentence the defendant in accordance with section 18-1.3-401 (8)(e). A person convicted solely of sexual assault pursuant to this subsection (5) shall not be sentenced under the crime of violence provisions of section 18-1.3-406 (2). Any sentence for a conviction under this subsection (5) shall be consecutive to any sentence for a conviction for a crime of violence under section 18-1.3-406.
(II) The provisions of this paragraph (b) shall apply to offenses committed prior to November 1, 1998.
(6) Any person convicted of felony sexual assault committed on or after November 1, 1998, under any of the circumstances described in this section shall be sentenced in accordance with the provisions of part 10 of article 1.3 of this title.
(7) A person who is convicted on or after July 1, 2013, of a sexual assault under this section, upon conviction, shall be advised by the court that the person has no right:
(a) To notification of the termination of parental rights and no standing to object to the termination of parental rights for a child conceived as a result of the commission of that offense;
(b) To allocation of parental responsibilities, including parenting time and decision-making responsibilities for a child conceived as a result of the commission of that offense;
(c) Of inheritance from a child conceived as a result of the commission of that offense; and
(d) To notification of or the right to object to the adoption of a child conceived as a result of the commission of that offense.”
- CRS 18-3-402(c).
- CRS 18-3-402(d).
- CRS 14-2-106 (License to marry) (Satisfactory proof that each party to the marriage will have attained the age of eighteen years at the time the marriage license becomes effective; or, if over the age of sixteen years but has not attained the age of eighteen years, has the consent of both parents or guardian or, if the parents are not living together, the parent who has legal custody or decision-making responsibility concerning such matters or with whom the child is living or judicial approval, as provided in section 14-2-108; or, if under the age of sixteen years, has both the consent to the marriage of both parents or guardian or, if the parents are not living together, the parent who has legal custody or decision-making responsibility concerning such matters or with whom the child is living and judicial approval, as provided in section 14-2-108).
- See also People v. Chavez, (1972) 179 Colo. 316, 500 P.2d 365. See also People v. Jurado, (Colo. App. 2001) 30 P.3d 769. Prior to March 1, 2022, statutory rape between a 15- or 16-year old with an adult at least 10 years older was an extraordinary risk class 1 misdemeanor carrying 6 to 24 months in jail and/or $500 to $5,000. SB21-271.
- See also United States v. Wray, (10th Cir. 2015) 776 F.3d 1182.