It is a crime to urinate in public in Colorado. Colorado's law against public indecency (CRS 18-7-30) makes it illegal to knowingly expose your genitals to someone else in a way that is “likely to cause affront or alarm.”
This includes public urination.
There are stories that it was recently made legal to urinate and defecate in public in Denver. Those stories are fake. They wrongly claim that recently passed laws make public urination and defecation legal. In reality, those laws only reduced the penalties for a conviction.
Public indecency under CRS 18-7-301
Colorado's law against public urination is CRS 18-7-301. The law prohibits 4 things:
- Acts of sexual intercourse,
- Lewd exposures of intimate body parts, not including the genitals, to arouse or satisfy a sexual desire,
- A lewd fondling of someone else, and
- Knowingly exposing your genitals to someone else in a way that is likely to cause affront or alarm.
The law only applies to conduct that is done either:
- In a public place, or
- Where it is reasonably expected to be seen by a member of the public.
However, you do not need to know that you were in a public place to be convicted for public indecency. Public indecency is a strict liability crime, so you do not have to be aware that the public can see you.1 You also do not have to intend to cause alarm.
Urinating in public is one of the most common violations of CRS 18-7-301 because it exposes your genitals. Even if you did not intend to cause “affront or alarm,” the lack of intent does not matter. All that matters is the reaction to the exposure.
Convictions for a first-time offense of public urination under CRS 18-7-301 are Class 1 petty offenses. They carry up to:
- 6 months in jail, and
- $500 in fines.
Subsequent convictions for public urination are Class 1 misdemeanors. Penalties for these convictions come with between:
- 6 and 18 months in jail, and
- $500 and $5,000 in fines.
Stories that public urination is legal in Denver are fake
Articles on the internet have claimed that a law was passed that allow people to legally urinate or defecate in public in Denver.2 Those articles are fake. They mislead readers by skewing a state law that was passed in 2010, and a city ordinance that was passed in 2017.
Colorado's public indecency laws were changed in 2010. That was when Colorado House Bill 10-1334 was signed into law. This bill made the following changes:
- It created the law of indecent exposure (CRS 18-7-302),
- It moved the most severe types of public indecency into that newly-created law, and
- It redefined a sex offense so it only included indecent exposure, not public indecency.
These changes were significant. Before the law went into effect, showing your genitals was a sex offense. Convictions required defendants to register as a sex offender. This could include people who merely:
- Urinated in public,
- Streaked at a football game, or
- Changed clothes outside.
Colorado House Bill 10-1334 created the less serious crime of public indecency so these people would not have to register as sex offenders.3 Instead, defendants would only be accused of a petty crime.
In 2017, the Denver City Council changed its city ordinance dealing with public urination and defecation. Before the change, a conviction carried up to a year in jail and up to $999 in fines. After the change, a conviction only carried up to 60 days in jail.
Fake news articles online, however, claimed this reduced sentence made it legal to publicly urinate and defecate within city limits. These news stories could create confusion for people who act on them and then face criminal charges for public urination.
See Dan Macguill, “Did the City of Denver Legalize Public Urination and Defecation?” Snopes (February 13, 2019).
J. Adrian Stanley, “That's a relief: Under a new state bill, public urination ceases to be deemed a sex offense,” Colorado Springs Independent (April 22, 2010).