Dan Murphy
By: Dan Murphy

If you are charged with assault in Colorado – rightly or wrongly – you will need to know what happens next and what steps to take. Keep reading, and you’ll learn what Colorado’s assault laws are, what the penalties are, and why you will need to contact a Denver criminal defense lawyer.

The law in Colorado defines assault as the illegal act of causing an injury to another person. This state’s laws recognize three “degrees” of assault. First- and second-degree assaults are prosecuted as felonies. Third-degree assault is a misdemeanor.

The methods of assault include just about any way that you can physically harm someone: stabbing, shooting, strangling, hitting, kicking, punching, slapping, shoving, pushing, or throwing an object, a scalding liquid, or acid at someone.


Assault is not a rare crime. In fact, it is the most common violent crime in this state. Out of the 25,201 violent crimes reported in Colorado in 2018, more than 14,000 were aggravated assaults. What constitutes first-, second-, and third-degree assault in this state?

Assault in the first degree is charged as either a Class Three or Class Five felony. This crime happens when someone intentionally causes serious bodily injury to another person using a deadly weapon. You can also face assault in the first degree charges if you intentionally disfigure, amputate, or disable another person. A conviction for the most serious first-degree assault charge, which is a Class Three felony, may be penalized with a prison term of 10 to 32 years and/or a fine ranging from $3,000 to $750,000.

Second-degree assault can be charged as a Class Three felony, Class Four felony, or Class Six felony depending on the nature of the crime. This type of assault happens when someone intentionally or recklessly causes bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon. Convictions are punishable with a prison term of 2 to 6 years (or 5 to 16 years if serious bodily harm occurred) and/or a fine of $2,000 to $500,000.

Assault in the third degree, a Class One misdemeanor, happens when someone knowingly, recklessly, or negligently causes injury to another using a deadly weapon . A conviction for assault in the third degree may be punished with 6 to 24 months in custody and/or a fine ranging from $500 to $5,000.


In Colorado, four factors in an assault case determine the precise charge:

1. Was a deadly weapon involved?
2. Was the perpetrator acting intentionally, recklessly, or negligently?
3. Did the victim suffer bodily injury or “serious” bodily injury?
4. Was the victim an on-duty law enforcement officer, firefighter, or other on-duty official?

Colorado defines bodily injury as illness, physical pain, or any impairment of a victim’s mental or physical condition. However, fractures, second- or third-degree burns, or a substantial risk of death, permanent disfigurement, or impaired organ function constitutes “serious” bodily injury.

Along with law enforcement officers and firefighters, on-duty officials include judges, emergency medical providers, and jail and prison employees.


If you face any criminal charge in Colorado, a domestic violence lawyer’s usual first step is trying to have the charge dropped or the case dismissed. If that isn’t possible, you have the right to a trial where your DUI lawyer will present evidence on your behalf and ask the jurors to return a not guilty verdict.

The usual defenses offered in assault cases include:

1. The action was in self-defense.
2. The action was entirely accidental.
3. The assault accusation is fabricated.


The “sudden heat of passion” is allowed as a partial defense in assault cases when the victim’s provocation of the defendant would have provoked a strong reaction from any reasonable person.

The sudden heat of passion defense can reduce an assault charge by two classes. For example, assault in the first degree, a Class Three felony, will be penalized as a Class Five felony if the sudden heat of passion defense prevails.

A conviction for a Class Five felony in Colorado may be penalized with a 1 to 3 year prison term and/or a fine of $1,000 to $100,000.

Additionally, assault in the second degree, a Class Four felony, will be penalized as a Class Six felony if the sudden heat of passion defense prevails. A conviction for a Class Six felony is punishable upon conviction with 12 to 18 months in custody and/or a fine of $1,000 to $100,000.

Voluntary intoxication may not be offered as a defense in a Colorado assault case. Defendants who were voluntarily intoxicated are still considered criminally liable for assault in this state.


Assault in Colorado law is distinct from the crime known as “menacing,” which is threatening or intimidating another person into believing that serious bodily harm is imminent.

Merely threatening or scaring someone is not sufficient to constitute menacing. The victim must reasonably have believed that he or she was about to suffer serious physical injury.

Menacing is a Class Three misdemeanor if no deadly weapon is involved. Convictions may be punished with up to 6 months in jail and/or a fine of $50 to $750.

However, if a defendant charged with menacing brandished a deadly weapon or represented that he or she was armed with a deadly weapon, menacing is a Class Five felony punishable upon conviction with a 1 to 3 year prison term and/or a fine of $1,000 to $100,000.


If an alleged assault victim is a current or former spouse or dating partner of the defendant, a conviction may trigger a domestic violence sentencing enhancement that can include a protection order – meaning no contact with the victim – and court-ordered domestic violence counseling.

Defendants should also know that convictions for Class Three felonies cannot be sealed in this state. Prospective landlords and employers, for example, may find the conviction when conducting a background check.

Immigrants in Colorado should know that an assault conviction can trigger a deportation proceeding, and those who hold professional licenses in Colorado should understand that an assault conviction may lead to disciplinary action by your professional licensing board.


The most important thing to remember about assault and menacing in Colorado is that if you are charged with either (or both) of these crimes – rightly or wrongly – you have legal rights, and you will need to exercise those rights.

In fact, if you are charged with any crime in this state, you should contact a Denver criminal defense lawyer as quickly as possible. It’s not only your right – it’s really the only practical option if you are facing a serious criminal prosecution.

Dan Murphy
By: Dan Murphy

Denver criminal defense lawyer Daniel M. Murphy provides clients in the Denver area with aggressive and sympathetic legal representation. He graduated from the University of Denver Law School in 1994 and worked as a public defender before starting his own practice in 1996. He has defended clients accused of the most difficult criminal and alcohol-related charges. He also serves as a Moot Court Judge for Denver-area law students who rely on his mentorship.