17 years of age
Colorado’s age of consent is seventeen 17 years of age. This means that minors 16 years of age and younger cannot legally agree to engage in sexual intercourse. Having sex with a child under 17 is a crime unless it falls under the close-in-age exception known as Colorado’s Romeo and Juliet law.
If a person engages in sexual intercourse with a person under the age of 17, he or she could face serious criminal charges, including statutory rape.
There are exceptions to this rule, including:
- the “close in age” exception, and
To help you better understand Colorado’s age of consent laws, our 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. What is sexual assault on a child?
- 6. 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 law 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 consent is guilty of a crime 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. This 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 within 4 years of his or her age.2
Example: Claire is a 14-year-old and chooses to have sex with Anthony, who is 17. Though she is below the technical age of consent, because Anthony is within 4 years of her age (and therefore within Colorado’s age exemption law), 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 between the ages of 15 but under 17:
- he or she can consent
- to engage in sexual intercourse
- with a person who is within 10 years of his or her age.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 not more 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.
CRS 18-3-402 defines the offense of sexual assault under Colorado criminal law, which is the language used to describe statutory rape and forcible rape charges. It involves:
- any sexual intrusion
- or sexual penetration
- on a victim without consent.
This includes instances where a person is not able to give legal consent, such as those who are too young. Penalties differ depending on the age of the offender and the “victim.” It can be a felony or a misdemeanor. See our article on the Colorado Sex Offender Registry.
The charge of sexual assault of a child is a closely related offense to statutory rape. If a person:
- engages in sexual contact
- with a person under the age of 15
- and the actor is at least 4 years older than the victim
he or she can be charged with this offense.5 While less serious than a statutory rape charge, it still has serious criminal penalties.
Colorado judges are aware that there are people who are wrongly accused, and there are legal defenses which 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.
For questions about Colorado 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.
- CRS 18-3-402 (Sexual Assault) (Describing the age of consent in various sexual situations).
- 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).
- CRS criminal code 18-3-405 (Sexual contact / sexual activity with a child younger than a 15-year-old)