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When Colorado police respond to a domestic violence call, and have probable cause to believe it has occurred, it is mandatory for them to make an arrest – regardless of whether the alleged victim denies any violence has occurred.


In these cases, it is the state pressing charges, not the victim.


However, there are a handful of scenarios which are even out of the state’s hands. In this post, we address those cases of domestic violence in Colorado that can be charged as a federal crime.


After reading about them here, if you are facing federal domestic violence charges and still have questions or need advice on how to handle them, don’t hesitate to reach out to an experienced Denver domestic violence attorney. As you’ll soon see, you have every reason to act quickly.There are two big differences between the federal definition of domestic violence and the state definition for Colorado:


  • The federal definition includes crimes against children. Colorado’s does not.


  • The federal definition specifies that DV crimes are specifically between family members. In Colorado, the two parties only need to have been involved in an intimate relationship.


Colorado: Domestic violence is an act or threatened act of violence upon a person with whom the actor is or has been involved in an intimate relationship, and includes any other crime directed against a person with whom the actor is or has been involved in an intimate relationship.


Federal: Domestic violence refers to violent acts committed by any family member against another, including physical harm inflicted on a member of a household or family by another member of the same household or family, and usually involves repetitive physical and psychological abuse or a “cycle of violence.”


In addition to charges of domestic violence against children, there are three distinct elements of a case that can elevate your charges from state- to federal-level prosecution: interstate travel, involvement of a firearm, and use of electronic or postal mail.


Let’s take a closer look.


Interstate Travel


Essentially, if someone travels to another state in order to injure a family member or partner, or if a person injured through an act of domestic violence is forced to flee across state lines, the federal government can press charges of domestic violence upon the alleged perpetrator.


These interstate travel scenarios became federal domestic violence crimes in 1994, when Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).


In the first scenario (alleged perpetrator crosses state lines), the law requires specific intent to commit domestic violence at the time of interstate travel, as well as the existence of bodily injury in order for prosecution to take place.


The second scenario (an alleged victim flees over state lines) does not require these things. It does, however, require proof that the alleged victim was forced or coerced through duress or fraud to travel over state lines.


Involvement of a Firearm


Typically, an incident of domestic violence involving a gun doesn’t automatically elevate charges to the federal level. However, more than two decades ago legislation was passed, amending the Federal Gun Control Act so that those who have been previously convicted of domestic violence offenses are prohibited from owning or possessing a gun and/or ammunition.


Anyone with prior domestic violence charges who is caught violating the ban while committing additional acts of domestic violence may be subject to federal felony charges and the harsher penalties associated with them.


When a pattern of domestic violence has already been established, violation of these gun laws can lead to a sticky situation. Those facing elevated charges would greatly benefit from representation by a knowledgeable attorney with experience in domestic violence and gun rights.


Stalking & Harassment from a Distance


Any tampering with your physical mail is considered a federal offense, but were you aware that – depending on the circumstances – federal domestic violence charges may apply?


Further, stalking and harassment of a family member is no longer limited to paper mail. Online stalking and harassment are included under this umbrella as well.


For each violation involving “snail mail,” there is now a digital equivalent, and some of the behaviors considered abusive and that can lead to federal charges of domestic violence include:


  • Checking a family member’s mailbox/hacking into their email


  • Sending offensive correspondence via the US postal service/posting or emailing embarrassing or intimate photos or comments about a family member


  • Constant correspondence that leads a family member to feel intimidated or scared


Denver Domestic Violence Attorney


In both state and federal cases, specific charges can vary based on


1) the severity of the victim’s injuries


2) whether a minor was involved


3) whether a protective or restraining order was violated.


Although the majority of domestic violence cases are managed by state and local law enforcement, the elements outlined here may result in your facing federal charges. In either situation, it’s not something you want to mess around with.



About the Author:


Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012 and 2013 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state.  She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.


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