Colorado "Assault" Laws

Updated

Colorado law defines "assault" as unlawfully injuring another person. There are three degrees of assault (from most serious to least serious):

  1. First-degree assault (18-3-202 C.R.S.): Intentionally causing serious injury with a deadly weapon.
  2. Second-degree assault (18-3-203 C.R.S.): Intentionally causing serious injury without a deadly weapon.
  3. Third-degree assault (18-3-204 C.R.S.): Negligently causing injury with a deadly weapon.

Penalties

Assault can be a felony or a misdemeanor depending on the degree:

Colorado assault crime

Penalties

1st degree

Class 3 felony:

2nd degree

Class 4 felony:

  • 2 – 6 years in prison (or 5 – 16 years if a deadly weapon or serious injury was involved), and/or
  • $2,000 - $500,000

3rd degree

Class 1 misdemeanor:

  • 6 – 24 months in jail, and/or
  • $500 – 5,000

Defenses

Potential defense strategies include:

  • The attack was done in self-defense;
  • The victim falsely accused the defendant; or
  • The incident was entirely accidental

Below our Denver criminal defense lawyers discuss:

Assault sign
Assault can be a felony or a misdemeanor in Colorado

1. How does Colorado define assault?

Colorado's legal definition of assault is unlawfully "causing bodily injuring to another person."1 Some examples of assault include:

  • Shooting, stabbing, or strangling;
  • Punching, hitting, or slapping;
  • Pushing, shoving, or kicking; or
  • Throwing objects or acid at a person

If the victim dies from the injuries, then the defendant would instead face homicide charges.

Assault is different from menacing (18-3-206 C.R.S.). Menacing is merely putting someone in fear of imminent bodily injury. An example is holding up a fist to someone and threatening to punch.

2. What are the degrees of assault?

In Colorado, the degree of assault depends on four factors.

The first is whether the defendant used a deadly weapon.

The second is the defendant's state of mind. The most blameworthy state of mind is intending to harm. One rung below intentional behavior is reckless behavior. And the least serious state of mind is criminal negligence.

The third factor that determines the degree is physical injuries. Colorado law defines bodily injury as:

  • Physical pain;
  • Illness; or
  • Any impairment of physical or mental condition

By contrast, serious bodily injury involves either:

  • Fractures or 2nd- or 3rd-degree burns;
  • A substantial risk of death or permanent disfigurement; or
  • A substantial risk of organ function impairment

The final factor is whether the victim was an on-duty official. "Officials" comprise the following five occupations:

  1. Peace officers (police, sheriff, deputy, etc.);
  2. Firefighters;
  3. Emergency medical service providers (EMTs);
  4. Judges; or
  5. Employees of a jail or prison where the defendant is incarcerated2

2.1. First-degree

First-degree assault under 18-3-202 C.R.S. occurs when a person intentionally:

  • Uses a deadly weapon to seriously injure someone;
  • Permanently disfigures someone; or
  • Disables someone's organ function

18-3-202 C.R.S. also comprises extremely risky behavior that causes serious bodily injury. It does not matter if the defendant did not intend to injure:

Example: Jeb has a new gun he wants to show off to his friend. He starts spinning it around on his finger, and it goes off accidentally. The bullet enters his friend's stomach. Jeb had no intention to injure his friend. But his extremely risky behavior qualifies as first-degree assault.

A less common form of violating 18-3-202 C.R.S. involves intending to seriously injure an on-duty official. But the defendant has to threaten the victim with a deadly weapon. And the defendant must know the victim is on-duty.3

2.2. Second-degree

Second-degree assault under 18-3-203 C.R.S. occurs when a person:

  • Intentionally causes serious bodily injury without a deadly weapon;
  • Recklessly causes serious bodily injury with a weapon;
  • Intentionally causes bodily injury; or
  • Intentionally drugs another without his/her consent

18-3-203 C.R.S. also includes the following actions where the victim is an on-duty official:

  • Intending to cause -- or threatening to cause -- serious bodily injury to prevent the official from working; or
  • Causing an official to come in contact with bodily fluids or a toxic chemical. And the defendant has the intent to harm that person.

A less common form of violating 18-3-203 C.R.S. is when a person in custody does either of the following:

  • Knowingly and violently applies physical force to an on-duty official; or
  • Causes a jail-worker to come into contact with bodily fluid. And the defendant has an intent to harm, harass or threaten the victim.4

2.3. Third-degree

Third-degree assault under 18-3-204 C.R.S. occurs if either:

  1. The defendant knowingly or recklessly causes bodily injury;
  2. The defendant -- acting with criminal negligence -- causes bodily injury by a deadly weapon; or
  3. The defendant causes an official to come into contact with bodily fluids or toxic substances. The defendant acts with intent to harass or threaten the official. And the defendant knows -- or should know -- that the victim is an official.5

3. What are the penalties for assault?

3.1. 1st-degree

First-degree assault is usually a class 3 felony as well as a crime of violence. The punishment is:

  • 10 - 32 years in prison, and/or
  • A fine of $3,000 - $750,0006

3.2. 2nd-degree

Second-degree assault is usually a class 4 felony. The typical sentence is:

  • 2 - 6 years in prison, and/or
  • A fine of $2,000 - $500,000

However, the prison range becomes 5 to 16 years if either:

  • The defendant used -- or threatened to use -- a deadly weapon; or
  • The incident results in serious bodily injury7

3.3. 3rd-degree

Third-degree assault is a class 1 misdemeanor as well as an “extraordinary risk” crime. The sentence may include:

  • 6 - 24 months in jail, and/or
  • A fine of $500 - $5,0008

4. What are the best legal defenses?

Three common ways to fight an assault charge include arguing that:

  1. The defendant was acting in self-defense;
  2. Any touching or injury was purely accidental; or
  3. The defendant was falsely accused

A partial defense is that the defendant committed the assault in the sudden heat of passion. This is when the victims' actions would provoke any reasonable person to snap. The classic scenario is catching a spouse cheating and immediately attacking them.

The sudden heat of passion defense can knock a felony assault charge down by two classes. Therefore, a class 3 felony assault would become a class 5 felony. This carries:

  • 1 - 3 years in prison, and/or
  • A fine of $1,000 - $100,000

And a class 4 felony assault done in the sudden heat of passion would be a class 6 felony. This carries:

  • 1 year to 18 months in prison, and/or
  • A fine of $1,000 - $100,0009

Three other partial defenses that may get a charge reduced include:

  1. The defendant did not use a deadly weapon;
  2. The defendant did not know the victim was a first responder; or
  3. The defendant did not intentionally injure the victim

Note that voluntary intoxication is not a defense. Defendants who willingly drink are criminally liable for assault.10

In any case, the D.A. may be willing to reduce or even dismiss the charges as part of a plea bargain.

5. What is the statute of limitations for a prosecutor to file an assault charge?

Colorado prosecutors have three years to bring felony assault charges. But they have only 18 months to bring misdemeanor assault charges.11

6. Are there other consequences of a conviction?

Defendants face a domestic violence (DV) sentencing enhancement when the assault victim is their current or former spouse or dating partner. The judge would issue a protection order against them. And if they are convicted, defendants may have to undergo DV treatment as well.12

Unless the case was in a municipal court, assault convictions may not be sealed in Colorado. So any future employers and landlords may see the case on background checks. However, assault charges that get dismissed can be sealed. Learn how to get a Colorado criminal record seal.

Assault can also be a deportable offense. So non-citizens charged with assault are advised to seek legal counsel right away. Unless the charges get reduced or dismissed, alien defendants may be forced to leave the U.S. Learn more about the criminal defense of immigrants in Colorado.

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Call our Denver criminal defense attorneys. 303-222-0330. We offer free consultations.

Call us for help…

We invite you to call our experienced and compassionate criminal defense lawyers for a free consultation. 

We serve clients throughout the state, including in Colorado Springs, Aurora, Fort Collins, Lakewood, Thornton, Arvada, Westminster, and Centennial.

In Denver, our convenient home office is located at:

Colorado Legal Defense Group
4047 Tejon Street
Denver CO 80211
(303) 222-0330

In California? Learn about California assault laws (240 PC).

In Nevada, assault is called "battery." Learn about Nevada battery laws (NRS 200.481).


Legal references:

  1. 18-3-202 - 204 C.R.S.    
  2. 18-1-901 (c) C.R.S.; 18-1-501 (8) C.R.S. 
  3. 18-3-202 C.R.S.
  4. 18-3-203 C.R.S.
  5. 18-3-204 C.R.S.   18-3-202 C.R.S.
  6. 18-3-202 C.R.S.
  7. 18-3-203 C.R.S.
  8. 18-3-204 C.R.S.   
  9. 18-3-202 & -203 C.R.S.; Rowe v. People, 856 P.2d 486 (Colo. 1993).    
  10. 18-1-804 C.R.S.  
  11. 16-5-401 C.R.S.  
  12. 18-1-1001 C.R.S.; 18-6-800.3 C.R.S.

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