Domestic violence charges are a serious matter. When a criminal charge is tagged as “DV,” Colorado law imposes rules that limit the discretion of prosecutors in dropping cases and prevents convictions from being sealed if a case is not dismissed. A domestic violence conviction, even for a minor incident, can result in serious collateral consequences, such as trouble finding work, housing, and loss of federal gun rights.
What the law defines as a criminal act of domestic violence is far broader than many people realize. A couple may have a verbal argument and the husband stands in a doorway to block his wife from exiting a room. A girlfriend finds her partner has been unfaithful and, in anger, knocks a vase off a table. Many people would be surprised to find that even if it is an isolated incident, even if everyone has cooled down and apologized.
No one wants criminal charges pressed. Once an officer arrives at the door, one partner will end up in handcuffs and be held in jail until a judge sees them. Because it is the State—not the partner—who presses charges, officers are required to make arrests even with little evidence, and the partner cannot “drop” the charges at a later date.
When temper flare, what is the line between an argument and a crime? Domestic violence is more than just an act of actual violence against a romantic partner. According to Colorado law, any criminal act against a person, property, or an animal when used as a method of coercion, control, punishment, intimidation, or revenge that is directed against a person with whom the actor is or has been involved in an intimate relationship with can be charged as an act of domestic violence.
When many people think of domestic violence, they think of an assault. As you may expect, any argument that becomes physical could result in criminal assault charges. Inflicting any degree of pain or discomfort on another is enough for a misdemeanor charge of 3rd Degree Assault that carries a sentence of up to two years in jail. More serious injuries or acts like strangulation could result in felony assault charges that carry a significant prison sentence. Other than situations like a person acting in self-defense, if someone is hurt, it is a crime.
However, pain does not need to be inflicted for criminal charges to be filed. These lesser charges are often a source of confusion, because people may not realize that they are committing a crime or reporting a crime by involving the police. A person may be charged with harassment for any degree of physical contact done with the intent to harass, annoy, or alarm, such as striking, shoving or kicking a person without causing them pain.
A small shove that causes no pain and leaves no marks is enough for an arrest and charge if reported. Blocking a doorway or exit to prevent someone from leaving a room is false imprisonment. Damaging property, even jointly owned property, is criminal mischief. Preventing someone from making a telephone call is obstruction of telephone services. While these types of charges are low-level misdemeanors, being charged with anything as an act of “domestic violence” is always serious.