Colorado Rape & Sexual Assault Laws
(18-3-402 C.R.S.)

Sexual assault -- Colorado Revised Statutes 18-3-402, C.R.S. 

In Colorado, you commit sexual assault when you knowingly inflict unwanted sexual penetration or intrusion on another person. Acts considered sexual assault include those commonly known as:

  • rape,
  • anal rape,
  • forced oral copulation,
  • penetration with a foreign object, and
  • (under certain circumstances) statutory rape.

The consequences of Colorado sexual assault

Most of the time, sexual assault is a serious felony, with penalties that include many years in prison. In addition, adult offenders are required to register with the Colorado Bureau of Investigation's sex offender registry for life.

But we know that when it comes to sex, wires sometimes get crossed. To help you better understand Colorado's rape and sexual assault laws, our Colorado criminal defense attorneys discuss the following, below:

Read our related article about the Colorado Sex Offender Intensive Supervision Program (SOISP).

1. What constitutes sexual assault in Colorado?

In Colorado, sexual assault is defined as a knowing act of unwanted sexual penetration or intrusion committed when:

  • It is against the victim's will;
  • The victim is incapable of appraising the nature of his or her own conduct;
  • The victim submits erroneously, believing the other person is the victim's spouse; 
  • A victim submits to the coercion of someone with supervisory or disciplinary authority while the victim is in law enforcement custody, or detained in a hospital or other institution (other than as part of a lawful search);
  • It is committed by someone purporting to offer a medical service or examination for other than a bona fide medical purpose or in a manner substantially inconsistent with reasonable medical practices; or
  • The victim is physically helpless and has not consented and the person having sex with him/her knows this.

1.1. Colorado's legal age of consent

The legal age of consent in Colorado is seventeen. Sex with anyone under seventeen is considered sexual assault despite apparent consent when:

  • The victim is less than fifteen and the other person is at least four years older and not the victim's spouse; or
  • The victim is at least fifteen years of age but less than seventeen years of age and the other person is at least ten years older and not the victim's spouse.

1.2. What is sexual penetration?

Under Colorado Revised Statutes 18-3-401 (6), C.R.S., “sexual penetration” means sexual intercourse, cunnilingus, fellatio, analingus, or anal intercourse.1 Any penetration, however slight, is sufficient to complete the crime. Emission [ejaculation] need not be proved as an element of sexual penetration. 

1.3. What is sexual intrusion?

18-3-401 (5), C.R.S. provides:

“Sexual intrusion” means any intrusion, however slight, by any object or any part of a person's body, except the mouth, tongue, or penis, into the genital or anal opening of another person's body if that sexual intrusion can reasonably be construed as being for the purposes of sexual arousal, gratification, or abuse."

1.4. The legal definition of “physically helpless”

Under 18-3-401 (3), C.R.S., “physically helpless” means unconscious, asleep, or otherwise unable to indicate a willingness to act.

1.5. The legal definition of "knowingly"

A person acts "knowingly" with respect to conduct or to a circumstance described by a statute defining an offense when he is aware that his conduct is of such nature or that such circumstance exists. A person acts "knowingly" with respect to a result of his conduct, when he is aware that his conduct is practically certain to cause the result.2 

Yes -- this is confusing. Even the courts struggle with the definition.

However, the one thing the courts are clear on is that sexual assault is a general intent crime in Colorado. This means that you do not have to intend to sexually assault someone in order to be found guilty. More importantly, it means that being voluntarily intoxicated is not a legal defense to sexual assault.3

2. Criminal penalties for Colorado sexual assault

Sexual assault is generally a felony in Colorado. It is also a Colorado “extraordinary risk” crime. As a result, the maximum sentence for sexual assault in Colorado is longer than for otherwise equivalently punished offenses.

From least to most serious, the criminal consequences of a sexual assault conviction in Colorado can include:

2.1. Statutory rape

The exception to sexual assault being punished as a felony is statutory rape, as defined above, with someone who is 15 or 16. Statutory sexual assault with a 15- or 16-year old victim is a Colorado class 1 misdemeanor. Penalties for this form of statutory rape in Colorado include:

  • 6 months-2 years in jail, and/or
  • A fine of up to $500-$5,000.

2.2. Sexual assault without force

If no force is used and the victim is not injured, sexual assault is a Colorado class 4 felony. Criminal penalties include:

  • 2-8 years in prison, and/or
  • A fine of $2,000-$500,000.

2.3. Sexual assault by force or drugging

Sexual assault is a Colorado class 3 felony when the victim's submission was caused by:

  • The use or threat of physical force or physical violence;
  • Drugging of the victim without the victim's consent; 
  • A believable threat of imminent death, serious bodily injury, extreme pain, or kidnapping; or
  • A believable threat of future retaliation against the victim or any other person.

For purposes of 18-3-402, C.R.S., retaliation includes threats of kidnapping, death, serious bodily injury, or extreme pain.

The Colorado penalty for sexual assault as a class 3 felony can include:

  • 4-16 years in prison, and/or
  • A fine of $3,000-$750,000.

Also see our article about sentencing sex offenders.

2.4. Gang rape / use of a deadly weapon / serious injury

In certain extreme circumstances, rape is a Colorado Class 2 felony. This occurs when:

  • The rapist is physically aided or abetted by one or more other persons; 
  • The rapist is armed with, or appears to be armed with, a deadly weapon; or
  • The victim suffers serious bodily injury.

"Serious bodily injury" means bodily injury which, either at the time of the actual injury or at a later time, involves a substantial risk of death, a substantial risk of serious permanent disfigurement, a substantial risk of protracted loss or impairment of the function of any part or organ of the body, or breaks, fractures, or burns of the second or third degree.4

The typical penalty for a Colorado class 2 felony is:

  • 8-24 years in prison, and/or
  • A fine of $5,000-$1,000,000.

However, using or threatening the use of a deadly weapon makes sexual assault also a crime of violence. Colorado violent crimes are subject to enhanced penalties. As a result, your total sentence for a violent sexual assault will be:

  • 16 years - life prison, and/or
  • A fine of $5,000-$1,000,000.

3. Additional consequences of a Colorado sexual assault conviction

If you are convicted of sexual assault in Colorado, you will be denied the following rights:

  • Parental rights or responsibilities with respect to a child conceived as a result of the rape;
  • The right to object or be notified of the termination of any parental rights respecting such a child;
  • Any right of inheritance from a child conceived as a result of rape; and
  • The right to object or be notified of the adoption of any such child.5

3.1. Colorado sex offender registry

A conviction for sexual assault will also result in your name being entered into the Colorado Bureau of Investigation's sex offender registry.

The following information will be included:

  • Your name, address and date of birth;
  • Your physical description;
  • Your specific crime(s) and date(s) of conviction;
  • Your predatory habits (modus operandi), if known; and
  • Whether you are considered a “sexually violent predator” (SVP).

3.1.1. Colorado sexually violent predator designation

You are considered a sexually violent predator if:

  • You were 18 or older at the time of the offense or you were tried as an adult; and
  • Your victim was a stranger or you established a relationship for the sole purpose of sexual victimization; and
  • The CBI's risk screening assessment indicates you are likely to commit a subsequent sex offense; or
  • You carry a similar designation from another state and move to Colorado.

SVPs are subject to community notification of their locations. They are also required to remain on the Colorado sex offender registry for life.

3.2. Failure to register as a sex offender

Failure to register as a sex offender is a Colorado class 6 felony. Penalties for failing to register can include:

  • 1 – 1 ½ years incarceration, and/or
  • A fine of $1,000-$100,000.

3.3. Can I be removed from the Colorado sex offender registry?

Adults convicted of sexual assault are subject to lifetime registration as sexual offenders.

You are also subject to lifetime registration if you have been designated a sexually violent predator;

However, if you were under eighteen at the time of the offense and your conviction was for a class 5 or 6 felony or for a misdemeanor, you may be able to petition the court to remove the designation.

For more information, please see our article on petitioning for removal from the Colorado sex offender registry.

4. Colorado sexual assault defenses

The best legal defenses to rape charges in Colorado depend on the facts of your case. However, common defenses include (but are not limited to):

  • No sex took place.
  • You were the victim of mistaken identity.
  • The sex was consensual under Colorado consent laws
  • You were married to the alleged victim.
  • You didn't drug the other person.
  • You reasonably didn't know the other person was too drunk or drugged to consent (for a reason other than your own voluntary intoxication).
  • You didn't threaten the alleged victim.
  • You didn't have a deadly weapon.
  • You didn't injure the alleged victim.

Call us for help…

If you or a loved one is charged with a sexual assault crime, we invite you to contact us at:

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

Arrested in California? See our article on California rape laws.

Arrested in Nevada? See our article on Nevada rape laws.

Legal references:

  1. Cunnilingus is oral sex performed on a female; fellatio is oral sex performed on a male; analingus is oral contact with the anus.
  2. 18-1-501 (6), C.R.S.
  3. Colorado courts have not yet ruled as to whether involuntary intoxication or mental incapacity would be acceptable defenses. See, e.g., People v. Roark (1982) 643 P.2d 756.
  4. 18-1-901 (p), C.R.S.
  5. 18-3-402 (7), C.R.S. 




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