Understanding The Relationship Between Assault And Self-Defense in Colorado

I’ve been handling assault charges in my Colorado criminal defense law practice for many years now. Seems like an easy-to-handle charge; it is not. An assault charge involves two people – by definition – which means these cases are rarely straightforward instances of one person attacking another without provocation.  It’s also commonplace that responding law enforcement is faced with both participants blaming the other side for the altercation when both parties claim self-defense.

Self-defense is a common refrain with my assault clients:

He hit me first!”

She grabbed me, and I was just trying to get her off me!”

“I wasn’t going to let him get away with stealing my wallet.”

I’ve helped many clients defeat an assault charge on the grounds of self-defense, but this isn’t a blanket defense. There are a lot of nuances depending on the circumstances.   

Defending Yourself when Someone Is Trying to Hurt You

When there’s a fight, it’s usually the case that one of the people involved provokes the altercation in some way, whether through taunting language, threats, insults and name calling –and sometimes through unexpected, immediate, physical contact. Ignoring the aggressor’s words and not engaging is the smartest course of action in these situations.  Words are rarely–if ever–enough provocation to claim self-defense in the event you are charged with assault.  However, if direct, physical contact has already been made, I’d recommend doing what you can to remove yourself from the situation and contact the authorities (and medical personnel, if necessary), immediately. In such situations, it’s likely the other person will be charged with assault rather than you, because they made the first move… but that’s not always the case (read on for more on that).  Officers are often left making real-time decisions in the heat of the moment, and if you gave better than you got while getting away, it can often look like assault when really all you did was defend yourself.  Depending on the level of injury inflicted on the other person, you could even be looking at a felony assault charge

But emotions often cloud our judgement and we don’t always follow the most rational path. Heightened emotions are easy to trigger, particularly when drugs and alcohol are involved, and situations can escalate.  Both the aggressor and the initial victim sometimes become equally engaged in perpetuating the fight.  In most “mutual fight” scenarios, the cops may charge a petty offense for disorderly conduct rather than a class one misdemeanor for minor assault, AND they are likely to charge both participants in the fight.  Mounting a successful self-defense case for an assault or disorderly conduct client in these instances can be a tricky assessment and depends on any number of variables, not the least of which is the number of witnesses, security footage, or other independent evidence that can tip the scales in your favor.

Make My Day: Defending Yourself in Your Home

Everyone should feel safe in their own home, and Colorado law generally allows a homeowner to use force against someone unlawfully entering the home. The term “Make My Day” is well known across the state, but contrary to popular belief, this doesn’t mean that you can just shoot anyone who walks onto your property or into your house uninvited. Sure – if the trespasser comes through the door with a bullhorn, proclaiming his or her intent to kill you, to kill your family, to set fire to your house, or some combination of the above, self-defense is likely to be a justified defense against any resulting assault charge. But again, these situations are rarely that cut and dry.

The use of force is justified in some circumstances to defend a home or other owned property, but it has to be appropriate. Deploying a shotgun against someone who accidentally stepped onto your lawn probably isn’t going to fly as a case of self-defense. Knocking someone out who broke a window and is sneaking into your house, on the other hand, may be a fairly easy case of self-defense.  It depends on where the intruder was located when the force was used.  It depends on the amount of force used to defend your property (generally, higher levels of force can be used to defend against bodily injury rather than defend against harm to property).  Again, it just depends.  When in doubt, use the minimal force necessary to accomplish your goal: defending your home.

What about that Purse and Diamond Wedding Ring?!

Look, I fully appreciate the sentimental value associated with certain belongings. I’m a long-time and devoted horse owner, and anyone who tries to hurt or steal my horses is going to regret it. I also, obviously, understand the financial value of expensive things. But no piece of property is worth your life, which is why the best move in the event of a mugging or robbery is to just let the stuff go.

Some people fight back, though, and depending on the level of force used to keep the Tiffany & Co. ring, an assault charge could result – even if you were the one being robbed. Colorado laws around defense of property are centered around the concepts of reasonableness and appropriateness. But like anything relating to the law, defining these terms in the context of an actual criminal charge is situation specific. There is no bright line. Once again… it depends.

The only guarantee around defining self-defense is that there is no guarantee.

At this stage, you’re probably tired of hearing that a self-defense case depends entirely on the specific circumstances of an event. But it’s true – and it’s the reason why you need a defense attorney to help you with your case. Self-defense lives in a grey zone and a Colorado criminal law attorney can help you shed light on where your assault case falls within that area.  In the case of misdemeanor and felony assault charges, I recommend getting an attorney immediately.  Do not go to court alone.  Do not give the DA a statement that you feel you were the victim and charged inappropriately.  In most instances, self-defense can be argued successfully at trial, but not all prosecutors are open to hearing about how you think the cops got it wrong at your first appearance.  Let an attorney work on an appropriate mitigation strategy on your behalf without giving away your trial strategy! 

If you’ve been charged with assault or another crime resulting from an actual or feared altercation with another person, let Justie Get Justice for You. Contact Colorado Lawyer Team Office, LLC by clicking here or email me at justieforjustice@gmail.com.