Colorado recognizes three “degrees” of assault, but every assault is considered a serious crime in this state. You’re about to learn what constitutes assault and how it’s punished in Colorado.

It’s a little more complicated than you might think.

For starters, an assault charge in this state may or may not be accompanied by a battery charge. These are distinct crimes in Colorado.

WHAT ARE THE DEFINITIONS OF ASSAULT AND BATTERY?

Battery – or “menacing” – is intentionally causing someone to fear immediate bodily injury.

Assault, however, is when someone actually and intentionally causes bodily injury to another.

In Colorado, assaults are charged as first-, second-, or third-degree assaults. First- and second-degree assaults are felonies (“aggravated” assaults), and third-degree assaults are “extra risk” misdemeanors.

Here’s a brief look at the different degrees of assault as spelled out by Colorado law:

WHAT CONSTITUTES ASSAULT IN THE FIRST DEGREE IN COLORADO?

First-degree assault may be charged in these three circumstances:

1. Someone intentionally causes serious bodily injury, disability, or disfigurement to another person.

2. Someone acts with indifference to human life, creates a serious risk of death, and thus causes serious bodily injury, disability, or disfigurement to another person.

3. Someone threatens, with a deadly weapon, a peace officer, a firefighter, a prison employee, or another “protected” employee as that person performs his or her duties.

In most of these cases, Colorado classifies first-degree assault as a crime of violence and as a Class Three felony punishable upon conviction by a minimum six-year prison term.

But if a defendant can prove that he or she committed assault “in the heat of passion,” the charge becomes a Class Five felony punishable upon conviction by a minimum of two years in prison.

WHAT CONSTITUTES ASSAULT IN THE SECOND DEGREE?

The distinction between second-degree assault and first-degree assault is that second-degree assault addresses “bodily injury” while first-degree assault addresses “serious bodily injury.”

Second-degree assault may be charged in any of these four circumstances:

1. Someone intentionally or recklessly causes bodily injury to someone else by using a deadly weapon.

2. Someone causes bodily injury to someone else while interfering with a peace officer, firefighter, prison employee, or another protected employee performing his or her duties.

3. Someone administers to another person a drug without that person’s consent in order to cause unconsciousness, stupor, other impairment, or bodily injury.

4. Someone causes a detention staffer to come into contact with blood, urine, feces, vomit, or any other toxic material, by any means, while lawfully detained in a detention center.

In most of these cases, Colorado classifies second-degree assault as a violent crime and as a Class Four felony punishable upon conviction by a minimum four-year prison term.

But if a judge decides that the assault was committed in the heat of passion, the charge becomes a Class Six felony punishable upon conviction by a minimum of fifteen months in prison.

WHAT CONSTITUTES ASSAULT IN THE THIRD DEGREE?

Third-degree assault is a Class One “extra risk” misdemeanor in the state of Colorado. It is typically charged in these two circumstances:

1. Someone intentionally or recklessly causes bodily injury to someone else by using a deadly weapon.

2. Someone intentionally annoys, harasses, threatens, or causes bodily injury to a peace officer, a firefighter, or another protected individual by using a dangerous chemical or substance.

Class One misdemeanors in Colorado are divided into two subcategories: “simple” misdemeanors and “extra risk” misdemeanors.

A conviction for a Class One extra risk misdemeanor in Colorado is punishable by six months to two years behind bars.

WHAT CONSTITUTES A “DEADLY WEAPON” IN COLORADO

As you’ve read, many of the actions that are considered assault in Colorado involve the use of a deadly weapon. But precisely what is the legal definition of a “deadly weapon” in Colorado?

Colorado law defines a deadly weapon as a “firearm, whether loaded or unloaded” or as a “knife, bludgeon, or any other weapon, device, instrument, material, or substance … capable of producing death or serious bodily injury.”

HOW DOES BODILY INJURY DIFFER FROM “SERIOUS” BODILY INJURY?

“Bodily injury” under Colorado law may include physical injury or pain, illness, or any mental or physical impairment.

“Serious bodily injury” may be any injury that poses a considerable risk of death, disfigurement, or the protracted impairment or loss of any body part, organ, or function.

Broken bones, burn injuries, and fractures also constitute serious bodily injury.

ARE THERE OTHER TYPES OF ASSAULT CHARGES IN COLORADO?

First-, second-, and third-degree assault are not the only assault crimes on the books in Colorado. Vehicular assault is also a felony that can be charged in two circumstances in this state:

1. if someone drives in a reckless manner or under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs

2. if someone’s driving causes serious bodily injury to another person

Vehicular assault involving reckless driving is a Class Five felony punishable upon conviction by up to three years in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.

Vehicular assault caused by driving under the influence is a Class Four felony punishable upon conviction by up to six years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000.

CAN ASSAULT DEFENDANTS ALSO FACE CIVIL PENALTIES?

As you’ve realized if you’ve read this far, the assault laws in the state of Colorado are complicated, detailed, and often somewhat confusing.

And the criminal penalties are not the only potential penalties for assault. In cases that involve bodily injury, the civil side of the law must also be considered.

An injured assault victim can initiate a personal injury lawsuit and seek compensation from the defendant for medical costs, lost wages, pain, suffering, and all other injury-related damages.

If a defendant is convicted of assault, that conviction will very likely be considered conclusive evidence in a civil personal injury trial.

HOW CAN A DEFENSE ATTORNEY HELP?

If you are charged with any assault crime in the greater Denver area or anywhere in Colorado, it is imperative to contact an experienced Denver criminal defense attorney as quickly as possible.

After reviewing the evidence and explaining your legal rights and options, your attorney will protect your rights and interests while advocating aggressively in your defense.

Depending on the details of the assault charge, your lawyer may try to have the case dismissed, may recommend that you accept a plea bargain, or may recommend taking your case to trial.

DO NOT ASSUME THE WORST

If you are charged with assault, don’t assume that you’ll be convicted. You may have been misidentified, or you may have acted in self-defense, or the accusation itself could be fabricated.

An experienced Denver criminal defense attorney will find the truth and bring your assault case to its best possible conclusion.

If you are charged with assault in Colorado, get the legal help you need. You have that right.

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.

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