We have highlighted Colorado’s strict policies against domestic violence in many past blog posts. From the moment an incident is reported to police, Colorado aims to put alleged attackers behind bars at the first sign of harassment or violence through its “victim’s rights” policies.
While these policies do help many victims find justice for the wrongdoing and violence perpetrated against them, there are also many cases where simple offenses or false accusations lead to unjustified domestic violence charges and penalties against someone.
A recent example from Arvada proves just how little it can take for someone to be charged with domestic violence in our state.
When Your Message Delivers You to Jail
A woman arrived at the Arvada Police Department on December 12 with text messages from her ex-boyfriend that she found troubling. These texts contained threats against the woman. Because of this, they were enough for the police to conduct an investigation and contact the man who sent them. After a conversation with the ex-boyfriend, the police put him under arrest and charged him with domestic violence harassment.
Yes, that’s right. In the great state of Colorado, a text message may be all it takes to get you labeled as a domestic violence offender.
How can texts constitute domestic violence? The key point is that the ex-boyfriend was charged with harassment. Police were able to hit him with this charge because he made threats of violence toward his ex-girlfriend in the texts he sent.
According to Colorado statute 18-9-111 (also known as Kiana Arellano’s law), it is considered criminal harassment if, among other things, anyone:
“Directly or indirectly initiates communication with a person or directs language toward another person, anonymously or otherwise, by telephone, telephone network, data network, text message, instant message, computer, computer network, computer system, or other interactive electronic medium in a manner intended to harass or threaten bodily injury or property damage, or makes any comment, request, suggestion, or proposal by telephone, computer, computer network, computer system, or other interactive electronic medium that is obscene.”
Harassment is a class 3 misdemeanor. If charged, an individual faces up to $50 in fines and up to six months in jail.
Domestic violence itself is not a separate crime in Colorado. Instead, it is a label that can be added onto any crime of violence committed against someone with whom the accused is or was in a domestic relationship. Under state law, this definition includes, among others:
Romantic partners (past and present)
If the crime is considered an act of “domestic violence,” a Colorado judge may sentence the accused to substance abuse treatment or education, anger management courses, or counseling as additional penalties. The accused could also have a protection order issued against them, and federal law states that anyone who is convicted of a domestic violence charge – misdemeanor or felony – loses their second amendment rights to bear arms.
Adding “domestic violence” to the beginning of a charge not only brings on additional penalties if you are convicted, it also increases the risk of a longer sentence.
If the ex-boyfriend in the case described above is labeled a “habitual offender” (a label given to those convicted of domestic violence three times in one year), his charges could be bumped up to a class 5 felony. The penalties for felonies include over a year in jail, as well as increased fines, and limitations on voting rights and access to government benefits.
It Goes Both Ways — But Only If You Have the Evidence
Breakups can be nasty and emotional. Oftentimes, both people will lash out at each other.
According to the ex-boyfriend, this is exactly what happened in his situation. Not only had his ex lied, cheated, and given him an STD (things that do not warrant a domestic violence charge), she was harassing him, too.
Specifically, he claimed that the alleged victim had been sending him nasty messages on Snapchat. Unfortunately for the ex-boyfriend, the way Snapchat is designed, its messages disappear after a short period of time. Because of this, he could not present hard evidence of his claims.
If he had been able to show textual evidence of the woman’s harassment, he might have faced a different outcome.
This is extremely important to remember for anyone who is involved in a relationship with a violent or threatening person. Harassment and violence sometimes go both ways in a relationship, but when police are called to an incident of domestic violence, or receive a report from one party in the relationship, they are required to make an arrest based on what they see.
Sometimes these arrests are unnecessary, but in Colorado, they are lawful.
Your Text Got You Arrested – What’s Next?
You have to fight back against domestic violence in order to keep your record clean, maintain your good reputation, and avoid other related penalties.
Any evidence of the accuser’s wrongdoing or domestic violence against you can be used to prove your actions were performed in self-defense. There are also other defense strategies that are appropriate for domestic violence crimes that you can use, but they depend on your situation and history with the accuser.
When it comes to harassment charges, you may be able to dispute the methods in which law enforcement obtained your text messages, social media posts, and so on, as well as your First Amendment right to exercise free speech.
If you are facing domestic violence charges, contact a Colorado domestic violence lawyer immediately.
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 2012-2016 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.