Colorado Cyberstalking Laws

Colorado cyberstalking laws prohibit repeated and credible threats through use of the internet or digital media. Cyberstalking is a felony offense in Colorado and can result in

Cyberstalking is related to the misdemeanor crimes of online harassment and cyberbullying. In this article, our Colorado criminal defense lawyers will address:

Cyberstalking
Colorado cyberstalking laws prohibit repeated and credible threats through use of the internet or digital media.

1. What is “cyberstalking” in Colorado?

Cyberstalking is a type of stalking that involves the use the internet, digital media, or online programs. Cyberstalking is a violation of Colorado's laws against any type of stalking. Stalking involves a credible threat and repeated behavior that reasonably causes another person to be afraid or suffer serious emotional distress.

Under Colorado Revised Statutes section 18-3-602, the crime of stalking involves either:

  1. Making a credible threat against someone, and
  2. Repeatedly approaches, contacts, communicates with, places under surveillance, or follows that person or the person's immediate family or intimate partner;1

OR

  1. Repeatedly follows, approaches, contacts, places under surveillance, or communicates with someone or that person's immediate family or intimate partner,
  2. In a manner that would cause a reasonable person to suffer serious emotional distress, and
  3. That person does suffer serious emotional distress.2

Any repeated threats through the use of the internet or electronic communications is considered “cyberstalking.” With the increased use of the internet in our daily lives, most cases of stalking involve some level of cyberstalking. Cyberstalking is a felony offense in Colorado, and can result in mandatory jail time, fines, and possible loss of any firearms.

2. What are examples of cyberstalking?

Cyberstalking can involve any type of communication used to make threats, harass another person, or place someone under surveillance. This can include simple forms of internet communication, like sending emails, or more elaborate actions like hacking into someone's phone or webcam. Cyberstalking can involve former romantic partners or complete strangers.

Examples of cyberstalking may include:

  • Repeated emails threatening the victim
  • Text messages saying the victim is being watched
  • Repeatedly sending the victim unwanted presents online
  • Sending surveillance pictures through Snapchat showing the victim at home, work, or school
  • Making indirect threats to harm the victim, the victim's children, relatives, friends, or pets through Facebook messages
  • Threatening to hack the victim's phone
  • Harassing the victim online
  • Placing a GPS tracking device on the victim's car to track their movement
  • Posting information or spreading rumors about the victim on internet forums
  • Obtaining personal information about the victim by using internet searches

3. Is online harassment the same as cyberstalking?

Online harassment is a separate criminal offense from cyberstalking. However, some activity could be charged as both cyberstalking and online harassment.

Under Colorado Revised Statutes section 18-9-111, online harassment includes initiating online communication to:

  • Harass
  • Threaten bodily injury
  • Threaten property damage
  • Make obscene comments or suggestions 3

Online harassment includes communication through a computer, computer network, or any computer system. Online harassment may include other forms of online abuse, including:

  • Cyberbullying
  • Cyberthreats
  • Cyberextortion
  • Revenge Porn

Online harassment or cyberbullying is a class 3 misdemeanor in Colorado. The penalties for a class 3 misdemeanor include a maximum of 6 months in jail and a fine of up to $750.4

However, racial online harassment is a more serious offense. If online harassment is intended to intimidate or harass another person because of their

  • race,
  • religion,
  • ancestry, or
  • national origin,

cyberbullying is a class 1 misdemeanor. The penalties for a class 1 misdemeanor in Colorado include a maximum of 18 months in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.5

Colorado's harassment law is known as Kiana Arellano's law.6 Kiana Arellano was a high school sophomore from Highlands Ranch. Kiana was a victim of cyberbullying and harassment from classmates and eventually tried to commit suicide. Kiana survived her attempted suicide but was left paraplegic and with severe brain damages as a result. Colorado did not have a cyberbullying law, and lawmakers passed legislation to make online harassment illegal, naming the law after Kiana.

4. What kind of online contact is included in cyberstalking?

Colorado's laws against stalking do not limit the kind of contact that may be illegal. Any kind of contact that is used to harass or causes someone emotional distress can be considered stalking. Cyberstalking generally refers to the use of online or electronic communications.

Colorado's restraining order laws have been updated to include online contact. Under C.R.S. 13-14-101(1.7), illegal contact includes any communication, directly or indirectly, through electronic and digital forms of communication. This includes contact through social media.7

Online communication that can be considered cyberstalking may include most types of modern communication. This includes social media platforms that claim to allow for anonymous communication. Online communication may include:

  • Text messages
  • Email
  • Forum posts
  • IRC chat
  • Instant messages
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Tinder
  • Snapchat
  • Instagram
  • Tumblr
  • YouTube
  • Kik
  • WeChat
  • Skype
  • Reddit
  • WhatsApp
  • LinkedIn
  • LINE

5. What are the penalties for cyberstalking in Colorado?

The penalties for cyberstalking depend on the accused's criminal background and other factors.

First Offense Cyberstalking

A first offense for cyberstalking is a class 5 felony in Colorado.8 The penalties for a class 5 felony include:

  • 1 to 3 years in prison
  • 2 years of mandatory parole
  • Fines from $1,000 to $100,0000

However, stalking and cyberstalking can be considered an “extraordinary risk” crime in Colorado. As an extraordinary risk crime, the penalties for stalking can include up to 5 years in prison.9

Second Offense Cyberstalking

A second or subsequent offense with 7 years of a prior cyberstalking conviction is a class 4 felony in Colorado.10 The penalties for a class 4 felony conviction include:

  • 2 to 10 years in prison
  • 3 years of mandatory parole
  • Fines from $2,000 to $500,0000

Cyberstalking in Violation of a Protective Order

Cyberstalking in violation of a restraining order, protective order, or condition of probation is a class 4 felony.11 A protective order is a court order that protects an individual from someone's threats or other actions. Also known as a restraining order, a protective order can limit someone from having any contact with you or your family, including online contact.

The penalties for a conviction for cyberstalking in violation of a protection order can include:

  • 2 to 10 years in prison
  • 3 years of mandatory parole
  • Fines from $2,000 to $500,0000.

5.1. Is cyberstalking a felony?

Stalking and cyberstalking are felony crimes.12 Felony crimes are the most serious class of crimes in Colorado. Felonies are crimes that are punishable by a year or more in prison.

In addition to criminal penalties, anyone convicted of a felony may have their conviction continue to penalize them for years to come. A felony criminal record may make it impossible or more difficult to:

  • Find a job
  • Get a professional license
  • Get scholarships
  • Serve on jury duty
  • Run for public office
  • Find housing
  • Get public assistance
  • Own a firearm

5.2. How is cyberstalking different than regular stalking?

The only difference between the crime of stalking and cyberstalking is the use of the internet or other electronic communications. Regular stalking may involve making credible threats or harassing someone in person, by mail, or on the phone. If the alleged stalker makes threats using text messages, internet forums, or through social media, the stalking could be considered “cyber-stalking.”

Colorado has not defined cyberstalking as a separate offense from stalking. Stalking and cyberstalking is charged under the same criminal statute in Colorado, under C.R.S. 18-3-602. Stalking in Colorado is also called “Vonnie's Law.”13

Vonnie's Law

Colorado's laws against stalking are named “Vonnie's Law,” after the death of Vonnie Flores who was killed by her stalker. Vonnie Flores was a teaching assistant in Leadville. Flores had gone to the Lakewood County sheriff's department to report that her neighbor had been stalking her for two years.

The stalker was arrested and released on bail. Vonnie Flores had a temporary restraining order against the stalker; however, a few weeks later, the stalker shot and killed Flores and then shot himself.

Colorado lawmakers introduced “Vonnie's Law” in 2012, named in memory of Flores. The anti-stalking bill went into law as Colorado Revised Statute 18-3-602.

6. How does the prosecutor prove cyberstalking?

In order to convict someone for stalking or cyberstalking, the prosecutor has to prove all elements of the crime. If the prosecutor cannot prove all elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, the accused should not be found guilty of cyberstalking.

Cyberstalking by Credible Threat and Repeated Conduct

The elements of the crime of stalking based on making a credible threat and repeated conduct include proving that the defendant:

  1. Knowingly,
  2. Made a credible threat to another person (directly or indirectly), and
  3. In connection with the threat, repeatedly followed, approached, contacted, or placed under surveillance that person, a member of that person's immediate family, or someone with whom that person was having or previously had a continuing relationship.14

Cyberstalking Causing Serious Emotional Distress

The elements of the crime of stalking based on causing the victim serious emotional distress include proving that the defendant:

  1. Knowingly,
  2. Repeatedly followed, approached, contacted, placed under surveillance, or made any form of communication with another person, either directly, or indirectly through a third person,
  3. In a manner that would cause a reasonable person to suffer serious emotional distress, and
  4. Which did cause that person, a member of that person's immediate family, or someone with whom that person was having or previously had a continuing relationship to suffer serious emotional distress.15

7. How do I defend myself against cyberstalking charges?

The best defenses available to criminal charges of cyberstalking depend on your specific case. The alleged victim in many cyberstalking cases may have misunderstood or misinterpreted the actions of the accused. Possible defenses to cyberstalking may include:

  • You did not threaten anyone or anyone's family members
  • The threat was taken out of context
  • Any threats were not directed at the alleged victim
  • The threat was exaggerated and not realistic (or even possible)
  • The alleged victim did not suffer any serious emotional distress
  • You never contacted the victim more than one time
  • The alleged victim was actually the harasser
  • The alleged victim thinks anonymous text messages are coming from you but they are coming from someone else
  • The alleged victim created fake threats to make themselves appear to be the victim

8. Is cyberstalking a federal offense?

In some cases, cyberstalking can also be a federal offense under 18 U.S.C. 875(c). It is a crime to transmit any communication that contains a threat to injure another person through the internet, email, or interstate commerce communication.16

The federal law may not apply to repeated harassment that would be considered stalking under Colorado law. The federal law is limited to threatening communications.

The penalties for cyberstalking as a federal offense include up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.17

Certain types of cyberstalking may also be charged as federal internet harassment, where someone uses a telecommunications device with the intent to abuse, threaten, or harass a specific person. This type of online harassment can result in a fine and up to 2 years in prison.18

Call us for help...

If you have been accused of stalking or harassing someone online, please contact us at Colorado Legal Defense Group. Our caring Colorado defense attorneys have many years of experience representing individuals arrested for stalking and cyberstalking. 

You may also wish to visit our pages on California cyberstalking laws and Nevada cyberstalking laws


Legal References

  1. C.R.S. 18-3-602 - Vonnie's Law - (“(1) A person commits stalking if directly, or indirectly through another person, the person knowingly: (a) Makes a credible threat to another person and, in connection with the threat, repeatedly follows, approaches, contacts, or places under surveillance that person, a member of that person's immediate family, or someone with whom that person has or has had a continuing relationship; or (b) Makes a credible threat to another person and, in connection with the threat, repeatedly makes any form of communication with that person, a member of that person's immediate family, or someone with whom that person has or has had a continuing relationship, regardless of whether a conversation ensues; or (c) Repeatedly follows, approaches, contacts, places under surveillance, or makes any form of communication with another person, a member of that person's immediate family, or someone with whom that person has or has had a continuing relationship in a manner that would cause a reasonable person to suffer serious emotional distress and does cause that person, a member of that person's immediate family, or someone with whom that person has or has had a continuing relationship to suffer serious emotional distress. For purposes of this paragraph (c), a victim need not show that he or she received professional treatment or counseling to show that he or she suffered serious emotional distress.”)
  2. Same.
  3. C.R.S. 18-9-111 - Kiana Arellano's Law - (“(1) A person commits harassment if, with intent to harass, annoy, or alarm another person, he or she: (e) Directly or indirectly initiates communication with a person or directs language toward another person, anonymously or otherwise, by telephone, telephone network, data network, text message, instant message, computer, computer network, computer system, or other interactive electronic medium in a manner intended to harass or threaten bodily injury or property damage, or makes any comment, request, suggestion, or proposal by telephone, computer, computer network, computer system, or other interactive electronic medium that is obscene.”)
  4. C.R.S. 18-9-111 (2) (“Harassment pursuant to subsection (1) of this section is a class 3 misdemeanor; except that harassment is a class 1 misdemeanor if the offender commits harassment pursuant to subsection (1) of this section with the intent to intimidate or harass another person because of that person's actual or perceived race, color, religion, ancestry, or national origin.”)
  5. Same.
  6. C.R.S. 18-9-111, see footnote 3 above.
  7. C.R.S. 13-14-101(1.7) (“Contact” or “contacting” means any interaction or communication with another person, directly or indirectly through a third party, and electronic and digital forms of communication, including but not limited to interaction or communication through social media.”)
  8. C.R.S. 18-3-602 (3) (“A person who commits stalking: (a) Commits a class 5 felony for a first offense except as otherwise provided in subsection (5) of this section.”)
  9. C.R.S. 18-3-602 (4) (“Stalking is an extraordinary risk crime that is subject to the modified presumptive sentencing range specified in section 18-1.3-401(10).”)
  10. C.R.S. 18-3-602 (3) (“A person who commits stalking: (b) Commits a class 4 felony for a second or subsequent offense, if the offense occurs within seven years after the date of a prior offense for which the person was convicted.”)
  11. C.R.S. 18-3-602 (5) (“If, at the time of the offense, there was a temporary or permanent protection order, injunction, or condition of bond, probation, or parole or any other court order in effect against the person, prohibiting the behavior described in this section, the person commits a class 4 felony.”)
  12. C.R.S. 18-3-602, see footnote 1 above.
  13. Same.
  14. Same.
  15. Same.
  16. 18 U.S.C. 875(c) (“Whoever transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to kidnap any person or any threat to injure the person of another, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.”)
  17. 18 U.S.C. 875(c) (“Whoever transmits in interstate or foreign commerce any communication containing any threat to kidnap any person or any threat to injure the person of another, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.”)
  18. 47 U.S.C. 223(a)(1)(C) (“Whoever—(1) in interstate or foreign communications—(C) makes a telephone call or utilizes a telecommunications device, whether or not conversation or communication ensues, without disclosing his identity and with intent to abuse, threaten, or harass any specific person; shall be fined under title 18 or imprisoned not more than two years, or both.”)

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