Strict Liability Crimes in Colorado

Strict liability crimes in Colorado are crimes that do not require the prosecutor to prove fault. Instead, the prosecutor only has to prove is that you did the thing that breaks the law. Unlike most crimes, strict liability crimes do not require you to act with a wrongful state of mind.

Examples

  • Driving under the influence only requires a prosecutor to show you had a blood alcohol content (BAC) over the legal limit.
  • A ticket for parking in front of a driveway only requires the prosecutor to show you parked your car in the wrong spot.

Strict liability crimes are difficult to defend against because the prosecutor does not have to care about your mental state. However, most strict liability crimes are minor. Nevertheless, having a Colorado criminal defense attorney defend against the charge can be important. In this article, they explain:

officer pointing breathalyzer at driver

1. What is strict liability?

A strict liability crime is a prohibited act that does not require a culpable state of mind.

Most conduct in Colorado requires two things for it to be illegal:

  1. A wrongful act, and
  2. A wrongful, or culpable, state of mind.

Most crimes require the prosecutor to prove both of these things beyond a reasonable doubt. They have to show that you did the thing that is prohibited, and that you acted with bad intentions. If the prosecutor does not prove both the act and the mindset, they cannot convict you for the crime.

Example: First-degree assault (CRS 18-3-202) requires proof that you seriously hurt someone, and that you acted intentionally as opposed to accidentally.

The state of mind needed to commit a crime depends on the crime, itself. Convictions can require conduct that is:

  • Intentional,
  • Knowing, or almost certain to cause a result,
  • Reckless, or disturbingly likely to cause a result, or
  • Criminally negligent.

Strict liability crimes do not require a particular state of mind. All that the prosecutor has to prove in a strict liability case is that you did the thing that is prohibited.

Example: Driving under the influence, or DUI (CRS 42-4-1301). This statute makes it illegal to have a BAC over 0.08%. The prosecutor does not have to prove that you intended to drink and drive.

Most strict liability crimes are minor offenses that do not carry jail time for a conviction. In Colorado, most are petty offenses.

Strict liability crimes are controversial for three reasons:

  1. They penalize people even if they cannot know they are committing a crime,
  2. Unlike other criminal laws, strict liability crimes are not good at deterring certain conduct, and
  3. They can label people as criminals, even if they never had a culpable state of mind.

2. Examples of strict liability crimes in Colorado

Relatively few criminal offenses in Colorado are strict liability crimes. However, there are still a lot of examples:

  • Selling tobacco to minors (CRS 18-13-121). A prosecutor only has to prove that you sold cigarettes or another tobacco product to someone under 18. They do not have to prove that you did it intentionally or even negligently.
  • Speeding (CRS 42-4-1101). All that is required for a conviction is evidence that you were going too fast. The prosecutor does not have to show you had a culpable state of mind.
  • Driving without a license (CRS 42-2-101). The prosecutor does not have to prove that you were driving without a license intentionally. All that is needed for a conviction is proof that you did not have a valid license at the time of your arrest.
Attorney hard at work

3. What legal defenses are available to strict liability charges?

Strict liability offenses are difficult to defend because the prosecutor has less to prove. There are, however, legal defenses that can be raised against a strict liability charge. Two of the most common include:

  • Mistaken identity, and
  • You did not commit the crime.

3.1. Mistaken identity

If the police mistake your identity, you can be charged with a strict liability crime that someone else committed.

Mistaken identity as a legal defense in Colorado is commonly asserted in traffic cases. License plate readers can make mistakes. You can get a ticket for something that someone else did. Proving that it was not you can be an effective defense to the charge.

Example: Bob's car gets stolen. The thief runs through 12 toll booths in 4 states without paying but Bob gets the tickets. Bob fights the tickets with proof that his car was stolen.

3.2. You did not commit the crime

The most common way to fight a strict liability charge is to show that you did not actually commit the crime. Prosecutors still have to prove that you did the thing that is prohibited. Presenting evidence that you could not have done it can be a strong defense.

Example: Kelsey gets ticketed for not having car insurance. She calls her car insurance company. They provide a letter saying she had insurance on the day she got the ticket.

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