Have you heard the story?
Vonnie Flores was stalked by her neighbor, Anthony Medina, for five years.
Medina would follow Flores when she rode her bike, went for a walk, or went to the store. He made inappropriate advances towards her, and told her he wanted to be in a relationship. Flores’s husband built an 8-foot fence between their homes, but it did little to stop Medina.
Finally, Flores called the police. They issued a restraining order against Medina, which he soon violated, resulting in his 2010 arrest. However, he only spent three hours in jail before he posted bond and returned home – 10 yards from the Flores residence.
Days before the hearing, Medina walked into the Flores’ front yard, fatally shot Vonnie Flores, and took his own life. In addition to being married, Vonnie had two children and was a teacher’s aide who specialized in working with troubled children.
At that time, stalking laws were very weak in Colorado. Medina did not have to go before a judge when released on bail – he paid only 10% of his $2,500 bond and was free to go. Moreover, his hearing was scheduled for three weeks after his release, during which time he shot and killed Vonnie Flores.
Advocates argued that Vonnie’s death could have been prevented with enhanced stalking laws, including her sister, Vicki Kadlick. In the months after Vonnie’s death, she persuaded Colorado lawmakers to change the state’s stalking laws.
Under the new statutes, termed Vonnie’s Law, stalkers must see a judge before they are released on bond. The law also sets specific criteria to define stalking from other forms of harassment, and includes criteria for bail and mandatory protective orders.
How exactly does Vonnie’s Law impact stalking charges in Colorado, though? What even constitutes stalking in our state? What criminal consequences could you face if convicted of stalking?
We’re going to answer those questions below.
How Colorado Law Defines Stalking
Under Colorado law, the defendant commits the crime of stalking if he or she knowingly:
- Makes a credible threat to the victim, and “repeatedly follows, approaches, contacts or places under surveillance” the victim, a family member, or someone with whom the victim has a relationship; or
- Threatens the victim and “repeatedly makes any form of communication with [the victim]…regardless of whether a conversation follows;” or
- “Repeatedly follows, approaches, contacts, places under surveillance or makes any form of communication that causes the victim emotional distress.”
However, for an offense to constitute stalking, this requires both (a) a credible threat, and (b) repeated behavior that reasonably causes the victim to be afraid or suffer serious emotional distress.
Therefore, the crime of stalking does not occur when:
- The defendant only made a threat once
- The threat was not credible
- The threat was not against the victim or his/her intimate partner or immediate family member
- A reasonable person would not have been scared or distressed
- The victim was not scared or distressed
Offenses falling under this umbrella are typically charged as the less-severe crime of harassment.
How Vonnie’s Law Affects Colorado Stalking Charges
The overarching purpose of Vonnie’s Law was to crack down on stalking in our state. This means that, in general, stalking has become more of a priority to Colorado lawmakers, which may lead to overzealous policing in some cases.
The terms of Vonnie’s Law lay out more rigorous criteria for what constitutes stalking in Colorado, better distinguishing stalking from harassment. This means that in some cases, defendants who may have been charged with harassment in the past will now be hit with stalking charges instead, which are more severe.
Secondly, Vonnie’s Law requires that defendants arrested for stalking go before a judge prior to posting bail. The defendant must acknowledge the terms of the mandatory protective order by signing the order in the judge’s presence. This means that defendants arrested for suspected stalking will be required to stay in jail until they go in front of a judge, which may take several days.
Colorado Stalking Sentencing and Penalties
In Colorado, stalking is both a felony and an “extraordinary risk” crime. This classification is reserved for crimes that crimes that constitute a significant risk to society, and it carries enhanced sentencing.
First-time stalking penalties in Colorado include 1-5 years in prison with a mandatory two-year parole, and a fine of $1,000-$100,000.
If the defendant violates a protective order in the process of stalking the victim, or has prior stalking offenses, their charge is punishable by 2-10 years in prison with a mandatory three-year parole and a fine of $2,000-$500,000.
The seriousness of these penalties, along with the increased attention being paid at both the state and local levels in Colorado, is why it’s important to know what to do if you are accused of stalking in Colorado, and to fight back against any allegations.
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.