Colorado Gang Laws

Gang graffiti
Colorado penalties will be enhanced if crimes are found to be related to a criminal gang.

Colorado law imposes additional penalties (sentencing enhancements) for crimes that are determined to have been committed by, at the direction of, or in furtherance of a criminal street gang. Colorado law also makes it a crime to recruit a juvenile for a criminal street gang or to retaliate against a witness to or victim of a crime. In this article, our Colorado criminal defense lawyers will explain the state's gang laws further. 

1. Legal Definition of a Gang-related Offense in Colorado

Several crimes in Colorado are classified under the law as 'gang-related'. Colorado law defines a gang in C.R.S. § 18-23-101 as an "ongoing organization, association, or group of three or more persons, whether formal or informal" that has a primary objective or primary activity of engaging in a pattern of criminal gang activity, or engaging in other predicate criminal acts.1

A "pattern of criminal gang activity" is defined within the statute as the attempt, conspiracy, solicitation, or actual commission of two or more predicate criminal acts on separate occasions, by two or more individuals.

Predicate criminal acts are considered any conspiracy or solicitation to commit the crimes of racketeering or retaliation against witnesses or victims. Under Colorado law, racketeering involves a number of acts, which may include things such as money laundering, fraud, extortion and more.2 Retaliation against a witness or victim includes any form of threats, violence, or harassment toward a person who is classified as a witness or a victim in a criminal case. The law also protects family members of witnesses and victims.

One gang-related crime that Colorado explicitly prohibits is the recruiting of juveniles to join a street gang. This crime is defined under C.R.S. § 18-23-1023, and occurs when:

  • A person knowingly solicits, invites, recruits, encourages, coerces, or in some way causes a person younger than 18 to participate in or become a member of a criminal street gang.
  • A person uses force, threats, or intimidation directed at any person, or bodily harm upon any person to prevent a person less than 18 years old from leaving a criminal street gang.

In addition, there are several separate crimes that may fall under the umbrella of gang-related activity, depending on the circumstances. For example, if a person has several accomplices in a criminal act, the state may attempt to position this act as a gang-related offense, especially if it involves a crime of violence.

Other crimes that could be related to gangs include: drive-by shootings4, vandalism5, retaliation against witnesses or victims6, and the illegal discharge of a firearm.7

2. Penalties for Gang-Related Offenses in Colorado

Recruiting a juvenile for a criminal street gang is considered a class 1 misdemeanor offense in Colorado. Class 1 misdemeanor charges are punishable by jail time between 6 and 18 months, and fines between $500 and $5,000.

Retaliation against a witness or victim is classified as a class 3 felony offense in Colorado. Class 3 felony offenses are punishable by 4-12 years behind bars, and fines between $3,000 - $750,000.

Offenses that are related to criminal gang activity will be prosecuted much more seriously. These crimes can include anything ranging from various sex crimes, crimes of theft, fraud, violations of Colorado forgery laws, or even assault and murder. These crimes can have enhanced sentencing to reflect the crimes, as well as any additional sentencing that may come from the standard enhancements of at-risk victims, sex offenses, or crimes of violence.

2.1. Crimes of Violence

When a person faces criminal charges, the court may classify it as a crime of violence. When a person is found guilty of a crime of violence, they can face a higher mandatory minimum sentence. Crimes of violence that can be related to gang activity include:

2.2. Crimes Against At-Risk Persons

Crimes against at-risk individuals are met with harsher sentencing. At-risk persons are classified into juveniles and adults. A person is considered to be an at-risk adult is a person 70 years of age or older, or a person over 18 years of age with any disability. At-risk juveniles include persons under the age of 18 with any sort of disability.

3. Defenses to Colorado Gang-Related Crimes

There a number of ways to prevent an offense from being prosecuted as a gang-related offense. Even if a person has committed a crime, it may not necessarily be the result of gang activity, even if the crime was not committed alone. Some possible defense to gang-related offenses include:

  • The crime was not tied to any gang activity
  • The crime was committed alone
  • The crime was committed with just one accomplice, not constituting a "gang"
  • In cases of recruitment of a juvenile, the person who was recruited was actually over 18
  • In recruitment cases, the juvenile does not end up participating in gang activity

Call Us For Help

If you have been charged with a gang-related offense, our experienced and knowledgeable Colorado criminal defense attorneys will fight to defend your rights.

Please do not hesitate to contact our office today for a free consultation. You can reach us by calling (303)222-0330, or filling out the contact form at the top of this page.

Legal References

  1. C.R.S. § 18-23-101
  2. C.R.S. § 18-17-103
  3. C.R.S. § 18-23-102
  4. Drive-by Shooting C.R.S § 16-31-301
  5. Vandalism (Defacing property) C.R.S. § 18-4-509
  6. Retaliation Against A Witness Or Victim C.R.S. § 18-8-706
  7. Illegal Discharge of a Firearm C.R.S. 18-12-107


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