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Colorado Criminal Law: An Overview

While Colorado isn’t known for a high crime rate, even the seemingly pettiest of thefts or least serious of assaults can carry significant legal and personal consequences.

This article can help you learn about Colorado’s laws and how they might affect your criminal case. You can find out more about the difference in criminal charges including misdemeanors and felonies, DUI charges, and many other state-specific criminal law topics. You can also use LawInfo to connect with Colorado criminal law attorneys in Denver, Boulder, Colorado Springs, Aurora, or elsewhere in the state.

Crime Classifications in Colorado

Every state has its own system of classifying crimes, and each category identifies the normal punishments for offenses. Like many states, Colorado has two main classifications of criminal offenses: felonies and misdemeanors. Additionally, there are two classifications of minor criminal and non-criminal offenses: traffic infractions and petty offenses.

Felonies are the most serious offenses in Colorado and include murder, rape, and kidnapping. There are six classes of felonies, four classes of drug-related felonies, and unclassified felonies, which include offenses like intentionally polluting the air quality or participating in a prison riot. Punishments vary depending on the class.

For example, Class 1 felonies carry potential punishment of life imprisonment, while convictions of Class 5 felonies can result in sentences of one to three years in prison and up to $100,000 in fines.

Misdemeanors are less serious criminal offenses, including non-lethal assault and most administrative – or “white collar” – offenses. Colorado has three classes of misdemeanors, two classes of drug-related misdemeanors, two classes of traffic violations, and unclassified misdemeanors.

Finally, petty offenses include theft and offenses that result in the loss of a small amount of money, usually under $100, and are generally punishable by up to six months in jail and $500 in fines.

Colorado Capital Punishment

Colorado no longer uses the death penalty. While the state previously approved capital punishment for crimes ranging from murder to first-degree kidnapping and aggravated assault by an escaping capital felon, the state repealed the death penalty in 2020.

Voluntary vs. Involuntary Manslaughter in Colorado

Some states charge and sentence manslaughter offenses differently depending on whether the offense was voluntary or involuntary. Voluntary manslaughter is often referred to as a “heat of passion” killing, such as when a scorned lover kills a cheating partner, while involuntary manslaughter is simply an accidental killing.

Colorado, however, doesn’t divide manslaughter into voluntary and involuntary offenses. Instead, the law assigns homicides into different felony classifications based on if the killing resulted from:

  • Recklessness or intentional accessory to another person’s suicide, which is a class 4 felony
  • Criminal negligence, a class 5 felony
  • Reckless or impaired driving, such as driving under the influence, a class 3 felony
  • Compromised emotions, i.e. a killing committed in the “heat of passion” which is a class 3, second-degree murder felony.

However, in the last above example, if the court finds there was enough time between provocation and the death in which the killer could reflect on their actions, prosecutors can elevate the charge to a class 2 felony.

Colorado Miranda Warning

If you’ve watched any TV crime show, you’re probably familiar with the scene when the police officers take a criminal into custody and recite: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you.”

Those lines are a part of what’s known as the Miranda Warning, based on a Supreme Court case from 1966. The ruling requires law enforcement officers in Colorado and nationwide to recite a warning informing you of your right to remain silent and not incriminate yourself during interrogation and your right to legal counsel.

The police must recite the Miranda Warning only if they intend to interrogate you under custody. If they fail to properly read you your rights before interrogating you or deny you access to a criminal lawyer before or during an interrogation, the court could deem whatever you say inadmissible at trial.

Colorado DUI Charges

Like most other states, Colorado considers anyone driving with a blood-alcohol content (BAC) of above 0.08 as under the influence. Additionally, the state has a zero-tolerance policy for underage DUI, classified as anyone under the legal drinking age of 21 behind the wheel with a 0.02 or higher BAC.

You should also be aware that any impaired driving, even if your BAC is under the legal limit, can result in a DUI conviction. And Colorado considers driving under the influence of any substance to be a crime. The statute is not limited to alcohol intoxication and can apply to any impairment, even by otherwise legal marijuana or prescription medicine. The average first-time DUI conviction in Colorado can cost you over $10,000 between fines, legal fees and driver’s license issues even with the best possible outcome with regard to your criminal charges.

Domestic Violence Laws in Colorado

Colorado’s criminal code defines domestic violence as “an act or threatened act of violence against a person with whom the actor is or has been involved in an intimate relationship.” Domestic violence can also include any crime against a person, their property, or their animals when used to coerce, control, punish, intimidate, or seek revenge against that person. And intimate relationships under Colorado law include past or present unmarried couples, or persons who are both the parents of the same child, as well as spouses and former spouses.

Domestic abuse or domestic battery convictions can result in probation, house arrest, and jail time and may require you to attend domestic violence treatment programs.

Colorado Criminal Defense Attorneys

Your criminal lawyer’s years of experience and comprehensive legal advice can be the difference between jail time and an acquittal. And anyone charged with felonies or misdemeanors in Colorado has the right to legal representation to present the best defense possible. Knowledgeable criminal defense attorneys who have a solid track record and are familiar with Colorado’s criminal justice system can help you in court and might be able to help you avoid court altogether. Many experienced criminal defense attorneys and law firms will offer a free consultation to start discussing your defense strategy.

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