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Colorado Criminal Law: Laws Protecting “At Risk” or Special Victims

Colorado treats a crime against an at-risk adult or at-risk juvenile differently than the same crime committed against another member of society. The legislature has found that at-risk adults and juveniles are less able to protect themselves against offenders, are more likely to receive serious injury from crimes committed against them, are more impacted by crime than the general population, and are more susceptible than the general population to the adverse long-term effects of crimes committed against them. Therefore, the legislature has decided that penalties for crimes committed against at-risk adults and juveniles should be more severe than the penalties for the same crimes committed against other members of society. C.R.S. 18-6.5-101.

Under C.R.S. ¤ 18-6.5-102, Colorado defines an at-risk adult as anyone who is 60 years of age or older. At-risk adults also include any person who is 18 years of age or older with a disability. An at-risk juvenile is anyone under the age of 18 with a disability.

A person with a disability is anyone who is impaired because of the loss of a hand or a foot or the loss of the use of a hand or a foot; is unable to walk, see, hear, or speak; is unable to breathe without mechanical assistance; is developmentally disabled (as defined in C.R.S. 27-10.5-102(11)); is a person with a mental illness (as defined in C.R.S. 27-10-102(8.5)); is mentally impaired (as defined in C.R.S. 24-34-301(2.5)(b)(III); is blind (as defined in C.R.S. 26-2-103); or is receiving care and treatment for a developmental disability.

C.R.S. ¤ 18-6.5-103 establishes harsher sentences for crimes committed against at-risk victims.. For example, the classifications of criminally negligent homicide, first degree assault, second degree assault, third degree assault, robbery, sexual assault on a child, sexual assault on a child by one in a position of trust, or sexual assault on a client by a psychotherapist are all increased by one level when committed against an at-risk victim. Thus ,for example, criminally negligent homicide is normally a class 5 felony, but is a class 4 felony when committed against an at-risk adult or juvenile. (See the discussions of particular crimes for more explanations.

C.R.S. ¤ 18-1.3-406 also provides that any person who commits any crime against an at-risk adult or at-risk juvenile that causes serious bodily injury or death to the victim and uses or possesses and threatens to use a deadly weapon commits a crime of violence. This means that the perpetrator must be sentenced to at least the midpoint of the presumptive sentencing range. Sentencing is discussed in detail in ¤ 7.8 of this Manual.

In addition to the sentencing differences described above, Article 6.5 also sets forth some special procedures for crimes against at-risk victims.

First, C.R.S. 18-6.5-103.5 allows for the videotaped deposition of the at-risk victim, and, if the victim is unavailable pursuant to Colorado Rule of Evidence 804(a), the videotape may be admitted at trial. However, it is important to note that this procedural rule may violate the constitutional right of a criminal defendant to confront the witnesses against him if proper procedures are not followed.

Second, C.R.S. 18-6.5-104 provides that statutory privileges that would otherwise bar certain witnesses from testifying (including the spousal, attorney-client, clergy-parishioner, physician-patient, psychologist-patient, and parent-child privileges) are not available for excluding or refusing testimony in the prosecution for a crime committed against an at-risk victim.

Third, C.R.S. 18-6.5-105 provides that crimes committed against at-risk victims must take precedence before the court, so the cases should be heard as soon as possible after they are filed. Finally, C.R.S.¤ 18-6.5-106 provides that a defendant who is convicted of committing a crime against an at-risk victim may be ordered to pay for the victim’s treatment costs and to pay restitution for monetary damages resulting from the crime.

The statutes described above do not establish any new crimes; they simply change the penalties and some of the procedures that apply in cases of crimes against at-risk victims. However, C.R.S. 18-6.5-103(6) provides that any person who knowingly neglects an at-risk adult or at-risk juvenile or knowingly acts in a manner likely to be injurious to the physical or mental welfare of an at-risk adult or at-risk juvenile commits a class one misdemeanor.

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H. Michael Steinberg Esq.
Attorney and Counselor at Law
The Colorado Criminal Defense Law Firm of H. Michael Steinberg
A Denver, Colorado Lawyer Focused Exclusively On
Colorado Criminal Law For Over 30 Years.
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