Colorado has dating laws and rules for minors about sexual relations. These laws deal with the age of consent in Colorado. Violating them can lead to a criminal charge for statutory rape. Depending on the circumstances, this can be a Class 4 felony. In these cases, consent is not a defense.
- Dan is 19 and Alice is 14. If they have sex, Dan can be charged with statutory rape.
Statutory rape accusations are difficult to defend against. However, there are some legal defenses you can use. Some of the most common are:
- The alleged victim is making false accusations,
- You were married to the purported victim, and
- There was no sex.
Importantly, there are some defenses that are not available. These include consent and mistake of fact. Neither of these defenses can work against a dating law violation.
The penalties for violating Colorado’s dating laws are serious. They also depend on the ages of the couple. In a worst case scenario, it can be a Class 4 felony. These convictions come with up to:
- 8 years in jail, and
- Up to $500,000 in fines.
You could also have to register as a sexual offender.
In this article, our Colorado criminal defense attorneys will explain:
- 1. What are Colorado’s dating laws?
- 2. Legal defenses to charges under Colorado’s dating law
- 3. Penalties for statutory rape under CRS 18-3-402
- 4. Related offenses to dating laws in Colorado
1. What are Colorado’s dating laws?
Colorado’s dating laws forbid having sexual relations with young people. They aim to protect children from older sexual predators. However, they can penalize young people who have consensual sex with each other. This can impact teenagers who are dating.
Colorado’s dating laws come from CRS 18-3-402. This is the same law that defines sexual assault. It also defines statutory rape.
CRS 18-3-402 does three things to create Colorado’s rules for minors:
- It sets the age of consent at 17,
- It defines statutory rape, and
- It lists exceptions to statutory rape, known as “Romeo and Juliet” laws.
1.1. The age of consent in Colorado is 17
Colorado’s dating laws set the age of consent at 17 years old. People who are 16 years old or younger cannot legally consent to sex. It does not matter if someone under 17:
- Consents to sexual intercourse,
- Asks or tells you that they want to have sex, or
- Instigates sexual intercourse.
Even in these situations, the law does not recognize their consent. They are not old enough to give it.
Example: Gina pulls her boyfriend to bed and takes off his pants. She is 15, though, so she is not old enough to consent.
1.2. Statutory rape under CRS 18-3-402
CRS 18-3-402 makes it illegal to have nonconsensual sex with someone other than your spouse. This includes having sex with someone who is not old enough to consent. This is statutory rape. It is prohibited by CRS 18-3-402(1)(d) and (e).
Any sexual intrusion or penetration can amount to sex under CRS 18-3-402.
1.3. “Romeo and Juliet” laws in Colorado
One exception to Colorado’s statutory rape law is when the two people are close in age. This is known as a “Romeo and Juliet” law. It allows consenting teens to have sex with each other without committing statutory rape.
The permitted age difference depends on the age of the alleged victim:
- If the victim is 14 or younger, the other person cannot be more than 4 years older,1 or
- If the victim is 15 or 16 years old, the other person cannot be more than 10 years older.2
Couples within this age range can have consensual sex.
2. Legal defenses to charges under Colorado’s dating law
There are several legal defenses that you can raise to a charge of statutory rape or violation of Colorado’s dating law. These include:
- The purported victim is making a false allegation,
- You are married to the purported victim, and
- There was no sexual conduct.
However, there are also some defenses that are specifically not available in statutory rape cases. These are:
- The victim consented to the sex, and
- You did not know the victim’s age.
2.1. The alleged victim is making false accusations
A potent defense to a violation of Colorado’s dating law is that the victim is making false accusations.
The false accusations defense claims that the victim is making things up for an ulterior motive. This ulterior motive can be to:
- Retaliate against you,
- Publically shame you, or
- Gain the sympathy of others at your expense.
You can support your false accusations defense with evidence of that ulterior motive. This undercuts the alleged victim’s integrity.
Example: Tom’s father cheated with Teresa’s mother, causing a divorce. To get back at them, Teresa accuses Tom of statutory rape.
CRS 18-3-402 only prohibits sexual conduct on a non-spouse. If you were married to the alleged victim, there is no way for you to break the law.
2.3. There was no sexual conduct
Statutory rape requires sexual penetration or intrusion. If conduct like this did not happen, it can be a strong defense to a statutory rape charge.
Proving that there was no sexual conduct, though, is difficult. It often turns into a case of “he said, she said.” This defense requires showing that you are more trustworthy than the victim.
If the alleged victim gives birth and you match the child’s DNA, it can undermine this defense.3
2.4. Non-defenses: Consent and factual mistake
There are two legal defenses that cannot be used to fight a statutory rape charge. These are the consent of the victim and mistake of fact.
The victim’s consent is not a defense because people underage cannot legally consent. If they verbally consent to sex or even initiate sexual conduct, the law sees it as meaningless. People who are underage can show their consent all they want. The law refuses to recognize it.
Your mistake of fact is also not a defense to a statutory rape charge. CRS 18-3-402 does not require your conduct to be intentional. It does not even require you to know that the other person was underage. This is because Colorado’s dating laws aim to protect young people from older sexual predators. To do this, the law does not care if you did not know the other person was underage.
3. Penalties for statutory rape under CRS 18-3-402
The penalties for violating Colorado’s dating laws depend on your age and the age of the victim. Those ages are calculated from the time of the offense.
If the victim was 14 or younger and you were at least 4 years older, it is a Class 4 felony. Convictions carry up to:
- $500,000 in fines, and
- 8 years in jail.
You will also have to register as a sex offender because it is a felony offense.
If the victim was 15 or 16 and you were at least 10 years older, it is a Class 1 misdemeanor. However, misdemeanor statutory rape is an “extraordinary risk crime.”4 This makes the penalties more severe than other Class 1 misdemeanors. Therefore, convictions carry up to:
- $5,000 in fines, and
- 2 years in jail.
3.1. Sex offenders in Colorado: Civil commitment and registration
People who are convicted for felony statutory rape become sex offenders. They can face civil commitment rather than being released from jail. They will also have to register as a sex offender after release.
If you are convicted for felony statutory rape, the court can send you to a mental health facility rather than jail.5 This civil commitment sentence can be one day, or it can be a life sentence.
The decision is made at the sentencing hearing. This happens within 21 days after a conviction.6
Two psychiatrists will conduct the examination. If the court decided that you are a threat of harm to the public, it can sentence you to civil commitment rather than jail.7
After your release from civil commitment or jail, you will have to register as a sex offender. You will also have to register after a second misdemeanor conviction for statutory rape.
Registration requires providing the following information:
- Any aliases you use,
- Date of birth,
- Where you work,
- Any online usernames you use in internet chatrooms or instant messaging,
- Physical description,
- A current photograph, and
- A full set of fingerprints.
This information needs to be updated:
- Every year within 5 days of your birthday,
- Whenever your address changes,
- If you legally change your name, and
- If you change jobs or school.
The information is published and available to the public on:
- Websites run by local law enforcement agencies,
- The Colorado Bureau of Investigation’s felony sex offender registry, and
- The Unified Sex Offender Registry System, or SOTAR.
Registering as a sex offender does not limit where you can live or where you can go. It does, however, lead to social stigmatization. It can also limit your job prospects.
Because statutory rape is a Class 4 felony, you can petition to get off the sex offender registry after 10 years.
4. Related offenses to dating laws in Colorado
There are several related offenses to statutory rape and Colorado’s dating laws. Some of these are frequently filed with statutory rape charges:
- Sexual assault on a child (CRS 18-3-405). This law prohibits having any sexual contact with a child under 15. You have to be at least 4 years older than the child.
- Failure to register as a sex offender (CRS 18-3-412.6 and 412.6). This statute penalizes people who do not register as a sex offender.
Call us for help…
If you have been accused of violating Colorado’s dating laws, you can use a lawyer. Our criminal defense attorneys protect people from statutory rape charges. Also see our article on Can an 18-year-old date a 16-year-old?
- C.R.S. § 18-3-402(1)(d).
- C.R.S. § 18-3-402(1)(e).
- Monchego v. People, 99 P.2d 193 (1940).
- C.R.S. § 18-1.3-501(3)(b).
- C.R.S. § 18-1.3-904.
- C.R.S. § 18-1.3-906.
- C.R.S. § 18-1.3-912.