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Posted By Shouse California Law Group on 09/13/2023

Is Self-Defense An Affirmative Defense In Colorado?

Is Self-Defense An Affirmative Defense In Colorado?

Is Self-Defense An Affirmative Defense In Colorado?

In Colorado, the concept of self-defense is governed by specific conditions that determine when the use of physical force is permissible to protect oneself or others. To be considered legally justifiable, self-defense must adhere to the following criteria:

  • Imminent Harm Belief - You must genuinely believe that using physical force is necessary to avert immediate harm.

  • Proportional Force - The level of force employed must be suitable for the situation at hand.

In certain scenarios, the application of deadly force may even be justified. It's important to note that you are not obligated to retreat from a confrontation before employing self-defense measures. However, the key condition is that you must not be the instigator or aggressor in the conflict.

CRS 18-1-704 establishes that “…a person is justified in using physical force upon another person in order to defend himself or a third person from what he reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of unlawful physical force by that other person, and he may use a degree of force which he reasonably believes to be necessary for that purpose.”

Examples can include:

  • A female is faced with a gun-wielding robber. In her effort to protect herself, she seizes the gun and delivers a punch to the thief.

  • A bystander observes a man harassing a female and intervenes to defend her by striking the man.

Self-defense is a complex legal defense. To demonstrate that your actions were justified, it's wise to consult Denver Colorado criminal defense attorneys. They can assist in elucidating the nuances of self-defense and offer guidance on how to establish that your conduct was warranted within the boundaries of the law.

When Can You Justify The Use Of Self Defense In Colorado?

Self-defense serves as a legal recourse against criminal charges, admitting the commission of a crime while asserting that it was executed solely as a means of safeguarding oneself from harm. When successfully employed, self-defense justifies the committed act, asserting that it was a response driven by self-preservation. Essentially, this argument absolves you from criminal liability.

In the context of Colorado law, substantiating a self-defense case involves demonstrating:

  • Imminent Threat Perception - A reasonable belief that you were facing immediate and unlawful force.

  • Necessity of Immediate Force - A reasonable belief that instant action was necessary to shield yourself.

  • Proportional Response - The use of force that you reasonably deemed requisite to prevent the threat.

In specific situations, the utilization of deadly force may be deemed essential for self-defense. Importantly, individuals in Colorado typically aren't obligated to retreat before resorting to force; the principle of "standing your ground" is generally upheld. This holds true even if lethal force is employed in defense.

Nevertheless, not all self-defense scenarios warrant justification. If you were the aggressor in a confrontation, self-defense cannot be invoked as a legal defense. Additionally, employing deadly force to safeguard property, rather than yourself, is generally inadmissible. The exception to this rule arises when attempting to prevent arson. Familiarity with these distinctions is vital for understanding the bounds of justifiable self-defense within the Colorado legal framework.

Is Using Too Much Force During Self Defense Illegal?

The application of force in self-defense is constrained by the principle of using only what you reasonably deem necessary to protect yourself. While the amount of force typically aligns with the threat you're facing, the appropriateness of force hinges on the specific circumstances.

For instance, if a man punches another person and that person responds by shooting the man with a gun, the level of force utilized may be deemed excessive for a self-defense claim. Since the punch did not cause severe bodily harm, the utilization of a firearm might not be considered reasonable under the circumstances.

When Can I Use Deadly Force To Defend Myself?

In certain circumstances, the application of deadly force is permissible as an act of self-defense. To invoke this right, you must possess a reasonable belief that:

  • You are facing an immediate threat of being killed or enduring significant bodily harm.

  • The aggressor is in the process of committing a burglary and is on the brink of using physical force against you, the occupant.

  • The assailant is engaged in actions such as kidnapping, robbery, sexual assault, or felony assault.

The authorization to employ deadly force is particularly robust when you are within the confines of your own home, a concept known as Colorado's "Make My Day" law. Conversely, your entitlement to use deadly force is less potent when your intention is to protect your property rather than your person. It's crucial to familiarize yourself with the distinctions between a felony and a misdemeanor to gain a comprehensive understanding of these parameters.

Colorado Has A Stand Your Ground Law

Colorado upholds the "Stand Your Ground" law, which provides individuals with the prerogative to defend themselves without the obligation to retreat from a confrontation first. This legal principle empowers individuals to employ reasonable and suitable force, including deadly force, without necessitating withdrawal. Unlike the "Make My Day" law, Colorado's Stand Your Ground regulation extends its scope beyond the confines of one's home.

To illustrate this, consider a scenario where the driver of a car is attempting to run a pedestrian over. In response, the pedestrian employs his firearm and shoots the driver, opting not to evade the threat.

This law even extends to cases involving trespassing on another person's property. However, it is essential to note that Stand Your Ground permits trespassers to employ self-defense against unlawful force only. Given that property owners have the right to lawfully use force against trespassers, certain situations may arise where trespassers are unable to assert self-defense claims. Understanding these nuances is pivotal for comprehending the scope of Colorado's Stand Your Ground law and its implications.

Reasonable Belief In Colorado - What Is It?

In Colorado, substantiating a self-defense claim hinges on demonstrating that you held a "reasonable belief" regarding several factors:

  • Imminent Threat - You were confronted with immediate danger.

  • Necessity of Force - Force had to be employed to protect yourself.

  • Appropriate Force - The force used was necessary to avert harm.

It's essential to differentiate between a reasonable belief and a subjective belief:

  • A subjective belief is unique to you.

  • A reasonable belief is one that most people would hold in the same circumstances.

A significant aspect of a self-defense argument involves persuading a jury that their response would have mirrored yours. Notably, a reasonable belief can still be incorrect in hindsight. You aren't required to be absolutely certain that self-defense is necessary. Demonstrating a perceived necessity is sufficient.

For instance, consider the case of David, who was ejected from a Christmas party. He claimed to have been struck on the head and heard a noise as he was pushed out. In response, he fired three shots into the closed door. These actions do not constitute reasonable grounds for asserting self-defense was essential.

Comprehending the notion of reasonable belief is pivotal in navigating self-defense claims under Colorado law, highlighting the importance of demonstrating that your response was reasonable based on the circumstances at hand.

Can I Use Self Defense If I Provoke A Fight?

In situations where you initiated a confrontation, you can only assert a self-defense claim if the following conditions are met:

  • Withdrawal from Encounter: You cease your participation in the altercation.

  • Effective Communication: You clearly communicate your intention to withdraw from the conflict.

  • Continued Attack: Despite your withdrawal, the other party persists in attacking you.

When these three prerequisites are fulfilled, you transition from being the initial aggressor to becoming a victim. This transformation grants you the right to employ force in self-defense. However, it's crucial to recognize that self-defense cannot be invoked if you were the one who instigated the fight. This provision is in place to prevent individuals from creating a pretext to justify self-defense based on their own actions.

Consider the example of a person who initiates a confrontation by brandishing a shotgun when he knocks on his neighbor’s door. In response, the neighbor retrieves his firearm to defend himself, prompting the man to shoot him. In this scenario, since the man initiated the fight and escalated it with a weapon, he cannot invoke self-defense when the situation unfolds unfavorably for him.

What Happens When Two People Agree To Fight Each Other?

In cases where two individuals willingly agree to engage in a physical altercation, the concept of self-defense does not apply. If both parties consent to a fight, neither can later invoke self-defense as a defense strategy. This legal principle is designed to prevent individuals from exploiting the self-defense claim to evade legal consequences in situations where both parties were complicit in the confrontation.

For instance, consider the example of two men challenging each other to a fight. In the course of the duel, Man A emerges victorious by shooting Man B. Despite the outcome, man A cannot assert a self-defense argument since both parties willingly participated in the fight, rendering the principle of self-defense inapplicable.

Can I Use Self Defense To Defend My Property?

In Colorado, you are entitled to employ force to protect your property, and this is still considered a form of self-defense. However, the force you utilize must be reasonable and appropriate to thwart certain criminal activities such as:

  • Unlawful trespassing and entry

  • Theft

  • Criminal mischief

  • Criminal tampering

For instance, consider the case of Johnny attempting to snatch Claire's purse. In response, Claire punches him and uses Mace to deter him. It's important to note that, in most cases, you cannot resort to deadly physical force for the defense of property. The use of force should be of a lesser degree. Deadly force can only be justified when protecting your property if the intention is to prevent someone from committing arson. This distinction underscores that while the principle of self-defense extends to safeguarding property, the level of force permissible is limited to ensure a proportional response to the threat posed.

Is It Possible To Use Force To Defend Someone Else In Colorado?

The concept of defending another person parallels the principles of self-defense. In Colorado, you can assert the defense of others if you genuinely believe your intervention is essential to ensure their safety. Essentially, if the individual being defended could themselves claim self-defense, you may step in on their behalf. This equivalence underlines that the criteria for defending another align with those for self-defense.

In scenarios involving the defense of others, situations may be complex and information may be limited. The legal framework acknowledges this inherent uncertainty. Consequently, you are granted the ability to act based on perceived circumstances, rather than requiring concrete knowledge of the situation. This legal approach acknowledges that in cases where your actions are driven by a genuine belief in the need to protect someone else, you can intervene to safeguard their well-being.

What Is The Make My Day Law In Colorado?

Colorado's Make My Day law, also known as the "force-against-intruders" statute, furnishes residents of a dwelling with the right to employ deadly force against an intruder if they hold a reasonable belief that the intruder intends to commit a crime or inflict any degree of physical force on an occupant, regardless of its severity. This law encompasses distinctive features:

  • No Duty to Retreat - Occupants are not obligated to retreat, even if avenues of escape are available, allowing them to "stand their ground."

  • Unlawful Entry Requirement - For the Make My Day law to be applicable, the intruder must have unlawfully entered the premises. This encompasses uninvited entry through unlocked doors.

  • Inside Dwelling - The law's provisions apply when the intruder is inside the dwelling; it does not extend to individuals outside the premises, even if they are on porches, rooftops, balconies, or in shared apartment spaces.

  • Absolute Safety - The law provides residents with heightened self-defense rights within their homes, granting them the authority to use deadly force to protect themselves from perceived threats.

Consider the example of a woman inviting her friend over to her Denver home, leading to a dispute. While the invited friend refuses to leave, her presence does not constitute an unlawful entry, rendering the Make My Day law inapplicable. Instead, the woman who lives in the home could involve law enforcement or, if faced with violence, employ self-defense measures within reasonable limits.

Colorado's Make My Day law was established in 1985 under CRS 18-1-704.5, and it embodies the principle that individuals possess the right to "absolute safety" within their residences. It safeguards occupants from legal repercussions, both criminal and civil, as long as they possess a reasonable belief that the intruder poses a threat. Regardless of the occupant's status, this law applies to diverse dwelling types, including: 

  • Houses

  • Apartments

  • Trailers

  • Motel rooms 

Which Crimes Does Self-Defense Apply To?

Self-defense serves as a legal defense frequently utilized against charges of violent crimes. Successfully demonstrating that you acted in self-defense can absolve you of liability for these criminal offenses.

Resisting Arrest

While self-defense can be a powerful legal strategy in various situations, it is not applicable as a defense against charges of resisting arrest according to Colorado Revised Statute 18-8-103. Resisting arrest pertains to the use of violence or force against a law enforcement officer who is carrying out a lawful arrest. In such cases, the arrest must be conducted under the authority of the law.

It's crucial to understand that self-defense cannot be used as a defense against a resisting arrest charge, even if the arrest is deemed unlawful. Instead, if you believe an arrest is wrongful, the appropriate course of action is to comply with the police officer's orders and later address your rights through legal means.

The exception arises when an officer is not acting under the color of the law. Instances where police officers are off-duty or functioning as private security personnel fall outside the scope of acting under the color of the law. If an officer in such a capacity attempts to make an arrest and you resist, you can potentially argue that your actions were in self-defense. However, it's essential to consult with legal professionals to navigate such situations effectively and determine the appropriate legal actions to take.

First Degree Assault 

First-degree assault, as defined by CRS 18-3-202, constitutes intentionally inflicting severe harm upon another person, frequently involving the use of a deadly weapon, yet without resulting in a fatality. When facing charges of first-degree assault due to causing significant harm to another person, the possibility of successfully invoking self-defense as a legal strategy arises. 

By substantiating that your actions were taken in self-defense, you can potentially evade liability for the offense. The concept of self-defense asserts that your actions were necessary to protect yourself from imminent harm, and if convincingly demonstrated, it can serve as a potent defense against allegations of first-degree assault.

Second Degree Assault 

Second-degree assault, as defined by CRS 18-3-203, pertains to intentionally causing harm to another person, although the injuries inflicted are not as severe as those associated with first-degree assault.

In cases of second-degree assault charges, asserting self-defense can serve as a potent legal strategy. Successfully demonstrating that your actions were prompted by the need to protect yourself or another individual can serve as a strong defense against the accusation of committing second-degree assault. By establishing that your intent was to defend rather than harm, you can challenge the charges and potentially absolve yourself from liability for second-degree assault. This legal tactic underscores the importance of evaluating the circumstances surrounding the alleged assault in order to present a compelling self-defense argument.

Domestic Violence 

In Colorado, the application of domestic violence statutes (CRS 18-6-801) elevates the penalties for various violent offenses when committed within intimate relationships. This means that if you engage in another criminal act, such as assault, against an individual with whom you share an intimate relationship, you may face domestic violence charges.

Self-defense emerges as a frequently employed legal strategy in addressing domestic violence allegations. Many instances involving alleged domestic violence are characterized by mutual aggression and confrontations. Utilizing self-defense as a defense involves establishing that you were not the instigator of the conflict and that your response was characterized by a reasonable degree of force. A successful self-defense argument can shield you from liability for a domestic violence offense, showcasing that your actions were rooted in the intention of protecting yourself rather than being the aggressor.

Second Degree Murder

When facing second-degree murder charges (CRS 18-3-103), which involve the knowing killing of another individual without the premeditation required for first-degree murder, the concept of self-defense can play a pivotal role. Second-degree murder entails an awareness that one's actions are highly likely to result in death. However, if you utilize deadly force as a means of self-defense, you might find yourself charged with second-degree murder. However, by effectively demonstrating that your actions were driven by a genuine need for self-preservation, you can potentially negate your liability for the crime. In such cases, successfully asserting self-defense can become a powerful legal strategy to contest charges of second-degree murder.

Understanding the legal complexities of self-defense as an affirmative defense in Colorado is important for residents and legal professionals. While the state recognizes the fundamental right to protect oneself and others from harm, the application of self-defense laws can be complex and context-specific. It is crucial to be aware of Colorado's statutes, case law, and the principles of reasonable force to navigate the legal landscape effectively. Whether facing criminal charges or simply seeking to exercise one's right to self-defense responsibly, a thorough grasp of the legal framework is necessary. By staying informed and upholding the principles of justice and safety, individuals can ensure that self-defense remains a legitimate and essential aspect of Colorado's legal system.

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