Understanding Colorado’s harassment laws

A harassment charge in Colorado is often a misdemeanor crime that can result in as much as six months in jail.

A few years ago, a 14-year-old Colorado girl started receiving harassing text messages. According to The Denver Channel, these anonymous messages included vulgar language or hateful sentiments, such as "Nobody likes you at school." As a result of the bullying, the young girl attempted suicide. While she survived, she suffered a severe brain injury due to a lack of oxygen.

The girl's mother spoke to the Colorado Senate Judiciary Committee. Shortly after, the state passed Kiana Arellano's Law, which went into effect in 2015. The law adds cyber bullying to Colorado's existing statute, which broadly defines what constitutes harassment and what the penalties may be.

What is harassment?

According to the law, there are a number of actions that could result in harassment charges, including contacting someone via an interactive medium such as text messaging, computer networks or phone. Harassment may also be defined as the following:

  • Touching someone else, such as striking or shoving him or her
  • Following someone through a public place
  • Directing obscene language or gestures toward someone else in a public place
  • Repeatedly calling someone, even if a conversation does not take place

It can also be considered harassment if someone repeatedly insults someone else in a way that would provoke a disorderly response.

It must be noted, however, that the law clearly states that harassment only takes place if there is an intent to annoy, harass or alarm the subject.

Is harassment a misdemeanor or a felony?

In nearly all situations, harassment is considered a class 3 misdemeanor. This can still carry with it substantial consequences, however, including as much as six months in jail and a monetary fine. The charge will be elevated to a class 1 misdemeanor, however, if the behavior takes place due to the subject's race, religion, ethnicity or national original.

What are common defenses to harassment charges?

The prosecution has the difficult task of proving harassment took place. Most often, defending against the charge will involve arguing over whether or not there was an intent to harass. For example, if someone is charged with harassment because of an incident involving a shove, it could be argued that the shove was made in self-defense or that the shove was merely an accident.

Cases in which someone allegedly harassed someone else through following him or her in public can also be difficult to prove. People are allowed to be in a public place. If there is no protective or restraining order in place, a defense attorney could point out the defendant's rights to be in that space.

Harassment charges frequently stem from arguments two people have, particularly if the two have some sort of pre-existing relationship. Under those circumstances, it may be plausible to attack the credibility or the intention of the person who brought the charges.

Any criminal charge can upend someone's life, jeopardizing his or her future, freedom and employment opportunities. People who have questions regarding issues such as this one should connect with a criminal defense attorney in Colorado.