Statutory Rape Laws in Colorado

Updated

3 times when sex with someone under 17 is legal in Colorado

Top Denver criminal defense attorney discusses Colorado statutory rape laws. Learn more about Colorado Legal Defense Group at https://www.shouselaw.com/colorado/sex_crimes/CO_statutory_rape.html or call (303) 222-0330 for a free consultation. 3 TIMES WHEN SEX WITH SOMEONE UNDER 17 IS LEGAL IN COLORADO Under CRS 18-3-402, statutory rape is defined as having sexual penetration with someone under 17 years old, which is the age of consent in Colorado. However, there are three exceptions where sex with someone under 17 may be legal: 1) People under 15 can consent to sex with someone who is within 4 years of their age. 2) People 15 or 16 years old can consent to sex with someone within 10 years of their age. 3) Legally married people can consent to sex with each other even if one of them is under the age of consent. The penalties for statutory rape depend on the age difference between the individuals: If the victim is less than 15 and the defendant is at least 4 years older, statutory rape is a class 4 felony, carrying a maximum penalty of 8 years in prison and $500,000 in fines. Also, the defendant will have to register as a sex offender. If the victim is at least 15 and the defendant is older by 10 years or more, statutory rape is a class 1 misdemeanor, carrying a maximum penalty of 24 months in jail and $5,000 in fines. A first offense of misdemeanor statutory rape does not require sex offense registration. COLORADO LEGAL DEFENSE GROUP If you or a loved one is charged with a crime we invite you to contact us at Colorado Legal Defense Group. We can provide a free consultation in office or by phone. We serve Denver, Lakewood, Littleton, Aurora, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins, Pueblo, Boulder, Broomfield, Grand Junction, Eagle, Aspen, Breckenridge, Vail and throughout Colorado. Colorado Legal Defense Group 4047 Tejon Street Denver CO 80211 (303) 222-0330 https://www.shouselaw.com/colorado


Statutory rape
in Colorado occurs when a person has penetrative sex with a minor under 17 years old, the legal age of consent. Even if no force is involved, statutory rape is prosecuted as sexual assault (18-3-402 C.R.S.). The only exceptions are if the people involved are married or near in age.

Depending on the case, statutory rape can be a felony or a misdemeanor. Felony convictions require the defendants to register as a sex offender. But it may be possible to get the charges reduced or dismissed through a plea bargain.

In this article, our Colorado criminal defense lawyers answer these frequently-asked-questions:

Also see our article on the laws and rules for dating minors in Colorado.

older man with young girl
The meaning of statutory rape in Colorado is sex with a person who is under the age of consent. Depending on the age difference of the people involved, having sex with someone who is underage can lead to criminal charges.

1. What is the age of consent in Colorado?

The age of consent in Colorado is 17 years old. People under 17 cannot legally consent to have sex. But there are some exceptions (explained below in section 3).1

2. What is statutory rape?

The legal definition of statutory rape is sexual penetration or intrusion with someone who is under the age of 17. In Colorado, statutory rape is prosecuted as a type of sexual assault. It makes no difference if the sex itself was consensual.2

Sexual penetration or intrusion includes such sexual acts as:

  • Intercourse (vaginal sex);
  • Anal sex;
  • Oral sex (fellatio, cunnilingus, anilingus); or
  • Inserting fingers or objects into orifices

In many cases, the underage person never reports the incident. Instead, it is often the child's parents, teachers, or jealous exes who notify the authorities.

3. Are there exceptions?

Yes. There are two exceptions to the age of consent law in Colorado:

  1. The "close-in-age" exception, and
  2. The marriage exception

These Colorado Romeo and Juliet laws apply only to consensual sex. There is no close-in-age or marriage exception to forcible rape.

3.1. Close-in-age exception

Children under 15 may legally consent to sex with people less than 4 years older. For example, a 14-year-old can have sex with a 17-year-old. This is because the older individual is not more than 4 years older.

Meanwhile, children aged 15 or 16 may legally consent to sex with people less than 10 years older. For example, a 16-year-old could consent to have sex with a 25-year-old. This is because the adult is less than 10 years older.

3.2. Marriage exception

Married people may legally consent to have sex with their spouses. Their ages do not matter.3

Romeo and Juliet movie
Colorado's "Romeo & Juliet" law allows minors under 17 to consent to sex with their spouses or people close in age.

4. What are the penalties?

The sentence for statutory rape depends on the age of the victim.

4.1. Felony punishments

Statutory rape is a class 4 felony if:

  • The victim was less than 15 years old, and
  • The defendant is at least 4 years older than the victim,

The maximum penalty for a class 4 felony includes up to 8 years in Colorado State Prison and fines of up to $500,000.

4.2. Misdemeanor punishments

Statutory rape is a class 1 misdemeanor if:

  • The victim is at least 15 but less than 17 years old, and
  • The defendant is at least 10 years older than the victim

Misdemeanor statutory rape is considered an extraordinary risk crime. Therefore, penalties include up to 24 months in jail and fines of up to $5,000.4

5. Is sex offender registration required?

People convicted of felony sexual assault must register as sex offenders. Felony sex offenders' names are publicly searchable on the Colorado Bureau of Investigation's Sex Offender Registry.

Misdemeanor sexual assaults are not listed on the sex offender registry. But subsequent misdemeanor convictions may be listed.

Sex offenders have to register with the local chief of police or county sheriff. This includes providing their:

  • Name,
  • Date of birth,
  • Address,
  • Place of employment,
  • Fingerprints,
  • Photograph,
  • Email addresses, and
  • Instant messaging or chat room identities

Sex offenders must re-register every year within 5 days of their birthday. They also have to re-register if they move or start work at an institution of higher education.

Sexual assault convictions also subject the defendant to lifetime supervision.5

cuffs and gavel
Statutory rape can be a misdemeanor or a felony in Colorado.

6. What are the defenses?

Two common arguments for fighting statutory rape charges are:

  1. No sexual penetration or intrusion occurred, or
  2. The defendant was falsely accused

The evidence in these cases typically comes down to "he said/she said" testimony. There are rarely video recordings or eyewitness accounts. This could make it difficult for the prosecutor to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Verbal consent is not a defense. It does not matter if the victim instigated the sex. Underage people may not legally consent to sex.

Mistake of fact is also not a defense: It makes no difference if the victim lied about being 17 or looked like an adult. Statutory rape is a strict liability crime and can be sustained even if the defendant believed the other person was of age.

7. Related Offenses

7.1 Sexual Assault on a Child

Sexual assault on a child (18-3-405 C.R.S.) is similar to statutory rape. But it does not require sexual penetration. Instead, it requires knowingly subjecting a child to "any sexual contact" if:

  1. The victim is less than 15 years old, and
  2. The defendant is at least 4 years older than the victim

Sexual assault of a child is typically a class 4 felony. But it becomes a class 3 felony if the defendant used either:

  • Force,
  • Threats, or
  • Threat of retaliation

A conviction requires registering as a sex offender.

7.2. Incest

Incest (18-6-301 C.R.S.) occurs when someone knowingly marries or has sexual contact with a family member. "Family" includes a:

  • Natural or adopted child,
  • Step-child at least 21 years old,
  • Whole-blood or half-blood sibling,
  • Uncle,
  • Aunt,
  • Nephew,
  • Niece, or
  • Any ancestor or descendant

Incest is a class 4 felony carrying sex offender registration.

7.3. Internet exploitation of a child

Internet exploitation of a child (18-3-405.4 C.R.S.) is using the internet to encourage a child to masturbate or to watch the defendant masturbate. Internet exploitation of a child is a class 4 felony carrying sex offender registration.

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Call our Denver criminal defense attorneys at 303-222-0330 for a consultation today free of charge.

Call us for help...

Accused of statutory rape? Contact Colorado Legal Defense Group at (303) 222-0330. Our experienced criminal defense attorneys provide free consultations by phone or in our Denver office.

In California? See our article on California statutory rape laws (Penal Code 261.5 PC). Also go to our article on California age of consent laws.

In Nevada? See our articles about the age of consent in Nevada (NRS 200.364) and statutory sexual seduction (NRS 200.368).


Legal References

  1. 18-3-402 C.R.S.
  2. Same.
  3. Same.
  4. Same; see also People v. Chavez, 179 Colo. 316, 500 P.2d 365 (1972).
  5. 16-22-103 C.R.S.; 16-22-112(2)(b)(II) C.R.S.

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