Some attention can feel flattering, even when it’s unsolicited. However, there’s a point where unwanted attention begins to feel threatening. This is commonly referred to as stalking.
Colorado has tougher stalking sentencing and penalties than many other states. These laws have been put into place to protect stalking victims from serious bodily harm or death, and a stalking conviction has severe criminal consequences.
Below, we’re going to cover how Colorado stalking laws work, the related crime of harassment, and the sentencing and penalties you can expect if convicted of this kind of crime.
Colorado Stalking Defined
Under Colorado law, the crime of stalking occurs when the defendant knowingly:
- Makes a credible threat to the victim, and “repeatedly follows, approaches, contacts or places under surveillance” the victim, the victim’s family members, or someone with whom the victim has an intimate relationship; or
- Threatens to harm 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 the charge of stalking to apply, the defendant must both (a) make a credible threat to the victim, and (b) exhibit repeated behavior that reasonably causes the victim fear or emotional distress.
If both of these elements do not occur, the offense is typically considered to be the less-severe crime of harassment, which we cover below.
The charge of stalking absolutely does not apply when:
- The defendant only threatened the victim on one occasion
- The defendant’s threat to the victim was not credible
- The threat did not involve the victim, or the victim’s intimate partner or family members
- A reasonable person would not have been scared or distressed by the defendant’s conduct
- The victim was not frightened or distressed
If you are unsure whether stalking accusations against you are valid, and this section doesn’t answer those questions, reach out to a Colorado defense attorney experienced in cases of stalking for advice. Here’s why…
Stalking vs. Harassment in Colorado
In Colorado, there’s a thin line between stalking and harassment. However, the differences in criminal penalties are often profound.
The same acts — for example following or threatening someone — can describe both stalking and harassment. It can often be difficult to legally discern the differences between the two. An explanation of the subtle difference is outlined in a specific piece of Colorado legislation.
It says that while a defendant can be charged with harassment for engaging in any single one of the above behaviors, stalking requires that the defendant committed more than one of these behaviors. This slight caveat can mean the difference between being charged with a misdemeanor or a felony.
Colorado and Vonnie’s Law
Colorado was not always tough on stalking. Prior to 2015, Colorado had some of the most relaxed stalking laws in the nation.
This changed when Vonnie Flores, a mother of two and special education teacher’s aide, was murdered by Anthony Medina. He stalked her for five years before killing her. Medina had been released on bail after violating a protective order and killed Flores prior to his trial.
After this crime, in an effort to discourage the offense of stalking, Vonnie’s Law laid out more rigorous criteria for what constitutes stalking, meaning that defendants who may have been charged with harassment in the past are now charged with this more serious offense.
Vonnie’s Law also requires that stalking defendants go before a judge before being released on bail, and sign an affidavit promising to respect the restraining order. A violation could land you in jail for several days.
Colorado Sentencing and Penalties for Stalking
Colorado considers stalking to be an “extraordinary risk crime.” So are human trafficking and sex crimes, to give you an idea of the magnitude of the charge. This classification applies to crimes that pose a significant risk to society and carries greatly enhanced sentencing.
Stalking is always considered a felony. First-time stalking penalties in Colorado include 1-5 years of imprisonment with mandatory two-year parole and a fine of $1,000-$10,000.
If you violate a protective order to stalk the alleged victim or have prior stalking convictions, you could face double the prison time, an extra year on parole and fines reaching $500,000.
If you’re hit with a stalking charge, you could face years behind bars and a criminal record that comes back to haunt you. That’s what makes it so important to understand Colorado stalking laws, and to fight back to beat any stalking charges against you.
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.