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Colorado Criminal Defense Blog

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Colorado, like most states, catalogs crimes according to certain criteria. When it comes to sexual crimes, certain factors determine each offense’s seriousness, which then impacts sentencing.  Where sexual assault and unlawful sexual contact are concerned, there is one big difference that distinguishes the two offenses: sexual assault requires penetration, while unlawful sexual contact involves touching without penetration.

Let’s take a deeper look at these sex crimes. First, we’ll detail the legal definitions, then, we’ll look at the penalties for each of them. Despite that one big difference, there are basic similarities between the two and they can get technical and a bit legalese in nature. However, if law enforcement has arrested and/or charged you or someone you know with one of these crimes, it’s important to fully understand how they work.

Colorado Sexual Assault

Unlawful sexual assault is codified under CRS (Colorado Revised Statutes) § 18-3-402. The crime takes places when a perpetrator deliberately intrudes or penetrates a victim in any in the following ways:

  • When the perpetrator:
  • forces the victim to give in against their choice
  • claims to offer medical services, but engages in medically inconsistent activity
  • allows the victim to believe that he or she is their spouse
  • uses their authority to coerce an imprisoned, detained, or hospitalized victim


  • When the victim:
  • is unconscious, and thus unable to comply
  • is unable to understand the sexual behavior
  • was at least 15 years old and the perpetrator was at least 19 years old and not the victim’s spouse
  • was between 15 and 17 years of age and the perpetrator was at least 10 years older than the victim and not the victim’s spouse

What do penetration and intrusion actually mean? That the perpetrator must, in some way, actually penetrate the victim either vaginally, anally, and/or orally.

Unlawful Sexual Contact in Colorado

Unlawful sexual contact is codified under CRS § 18-3-404. The crime takes place when a perpetrator touches a victim’s “intimate parts” for purposes of sexual gratification, arousal, or abuse. A perpetrator deliberately commits unlawful sexual contact when they:

  • know the victim did not permit the contact
  • know the victim is not capable of evaluating their own actions
  • know the victim is physically helpless and has not consented
  • claim to offer medical services, but engage in medically inconsistent activity
  • significantly diminish the victim’s ability to evaluate or monitor their own conduct by using, without their consent, intoxicants, drugs, or anything else to induce the victim’s submission
  • use their authority to coerce an imprisoned, detained, or hospitalized victim, unless contingent to lawful search
  • knowingly, with or without sexual contact, induce or coerce a child under age 18, by any of the means described as unlawful sexual assault, to expose private parts or to participate in any sexual contact, penetration, or intrusion with another person for the perpetrator’s sexual gratification

What are “intimate parts?” CRS § 18-3-401, Definitions, describes “intimate parts” as an individual’s external genitalia, buttocks, pubes (the lower part of the abdomen at the front of the pelvis), anus, breasts, buttocks, or perineum (in a male, the space between the anus and scrotum; in a female, the space between the anus and the vulva).

What Does Colorado Define as Consent?

Definitions outlines “consent” as cooperation in action or mindset pursuant to an exercise of free will and with a clear understanding of what is going on at that instant. Submission under the pressure of fear does not deem consent in court. Nor does an existing or prior relationship does not prove consent.

Punishment for Colorado Sexual Assault

This is a serious felony. There is a wide range of sentences for sexual assault that the court can impose. Most are detailed under CRS § 18-1.3-1004 Indeterminate Sentence. Prison sentences range from two years through life and fines can reach $1 million.

If released from prison, the individual faces years of parole, a lifetime of supervision as a sex offender, and mandatory registration as a sex offender with Colorado’s Bureau of Investigation’s Sex Offender Registry.

Sentencing depends on the circumstances of the crime and the class of felony the court classifies it as (Felony 2, Felony 3, or Felony 4). Those circumstances include:

  • death threats
  • physical violence
  • HIV infection
  • retaliation threats
  • kidnapping
  • whether deadly weapons and/or drugs were used
  • whether the victim was a child under age 18

Punishment for Unlawful Sexual Contact in Colorado

The court can consider unlawful sexual contact, also depending on circumstance, a misdemeanor or a felony. So, again, sentencing can vary widely. It is considered an extraordinary risk crime, so sentencing is usually the maximum allowed. A first-time offense is usually a Class 1 misdemeanor, which involves a prison sentence up to two years and a fine up to $5,000.

Punishment can, however, go as high as life – particularly if violence is involved. § 18-1.3-406 Mandatory Sentences for Violent Crimes outlines the punishment and refers to circumstances that would lead to higher penalties, which are similar to those involving punishments for sexual assault.

A person convicted of unlawful sexual contact also faces years of parole, a lifetime of supervision as a sex offender, and mandatory registration as a sex offender with Colorado’s Bureau of Investigation’s Sex Offender Registry.


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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