When you are Charged – The Colorado Third Degree Assault Law

In order to fully understand the charge of Third Degree Assault in Colorado – as with all laws – you have to parse the actual law and then study the cases interpreting the law.

Here is Colorado’s Third Degree Assault Law:

Colorado Revised Statute: CRS 18-3-204. Assault in the third degree:

  1. A person commits the crime of assault in the third degree if:
    1. The person knowingly or recklessly causes bodily injury to another person or with criminal negligence the person causes bodily injury to another person by means of a deadly weapon; or (This Section was added in 2009 for obvious reasons)
    2. The person, with intent to infect, injure, harm, harass, annoy, threaten, or alarm another person whom the actor knows or reasonably should know to be a peace officer, a firefighter, or an emergency medical technician, causes such other person to come into contact with blood, seminal fluid, urine, feces, saliva, mucus, vomit, or any toxic, caustic, or hazardous material by any means, including but not limited to throwing, tossing, or expelling such fluid or material.
    1. An adult or juvenile who has had a court find that there is probable cause to believe that he or she has committed an offense pursuant to paragraph (b) of subsection (1) of this section or is convicted of an offense pursuant to paragraph (b) of subsection (1) of this section or any person who is determined to have provided blood, seminal fluid, urine, feces, saliva, mucus, or vomit to a person for whom probable cause has been found or been convicted of such an offense shall be ordered by the court to submit to a medical test for communicable diseases and to supply blood, feces, urine, saliva, or other bodily fluid required for the test. The results of such test shall be reported to the court or the court’s designee, who shall then disclose the results to any victim of the offense who requests such disclosure. Review and disclosure of medical test results by the court shall be closed and confidential, and any transaction records relating thereto shall also be closed and confidential. If a person subject to a medical test for communicable diseases pursuant to this subsection (2) voluntarily submits to a medical test for communicable diseases, the fact of the person’s voluntary submission shall be admissible in mitigation of sentence if the person is convicted of the charged offense.
    2. In addition to any other penalty provided by law, the court may order any person who is convicted of the offense described in paragraph (b) of subsection (1) of this section to meet all or any portion of the financial obligations of medical tests performed on and treatment prescribed for the victim or victims of the offense.
  2. Assault in the third degree is a class 1 misdemeanor and is an extraordinary risk crime that is subject to the modified sentencing range specified in section 18-1.3-501 (3). (that means the sentence can be up to two years in the county – not state prison – jail)
Colorado Cases Interpreting the Statutory Law

The essential elements (parts of the crime)of assault are an unlawful attempt to commit a violent injury and the present ability to commit a violent injury, and these elements must be shown to have existed at the time in order to sustain a charge of assault. People v. Cardwell, 181 Colo. 421, 510 P.2d 317 (1973).

Assault is an unlawful attempt coupled with a present ability to commit a violent injury on the person of another. Sims v. People, 177 Colo. 229, 493 P.2d 365 (1972).

Conduct which creates substantial risk of serious bodily injury is NOT an element of offense.

The establishment of every element of third degree assault would not necessarily include proving conduct which creates a substantial risk of serious bodily injury, an element of reckless endangerment. Third degree assault requires proof of bodily injury but not proof of a substantial risk of serious bodily injury. Therefore reckless endangerment is not a lesser included offense of third degree assault. People v. Berner, 42 Colo. App. 520, 600 P.2d 112 (1979).

Multiple Blows – Not Separate Criminal Charges

Separate blows in single criminal transaction are single offense. Where two blows were delivered to the same person within a short period of time as part of a continuous harangue to extract information, these two blows were not separate transactions but were part of a single criminal transaction arising from a single impulse. Therefore it was error to charge and convict defendant twice for the same transaction. People v. Berner, 42 Colo. App. 520, 600 P.2d 112 (1979).

Wrong Party is Struck -Not a Defense

It is not defense to show that the specific intent was directed at someone else other than the victim. People v. Tafoya, 179 Colo. 438, 501 P.2d 118 (1972).
The Role of Mental Illness as a Defense to Third Degree Assault
Mental impairment evidence admissible to negate mens rea. Opinion evidence of a mental impairment due to a mental disease or defect may be admitted to negate the mens rea for a nonspecific intent crime such as assault in the third degree. Hendershott v. People, 653 P.2d 385 (Colo. 1982), cert. denied, 459 U.S. 1225, 103 S. Ct. 1232, 75 L. Ed.2d 466 (1983).

The bodily injury casued in a third degree assault need not be of a crippling or otherwise incapacitating nature to be within the statutory prohibition. People v. Lobato, 187 Colo. 285, 530 P.2d 493 (1975).

Third degree assault is a lesser included offense of second degree assault. People v. Thompson, 187 Colo. 252, 529 P.2d 1314 (1975); People v. Annan, 665 P.2d 629 (Colo. App. 1983); People v. Brown, 677 P.2d 406 (Colo. App. 1983); People v. Smith, 682 P.2d 493 (Colo. App. 1983); People v. Howard, 89 P.3d 441 (Colo. App. 2003).

The ONLY difference between second and third degree assault is degree of injury. People v. Thompson, 187 Colo. 252, 529 P.2d 1314 (1975); People v. Brown, 677 P.2d 406 (Colo. App. 1983).

Third degree assault is distinguishable from second degree assault on a peace officer, as described in § 18-3-203, and resisting arrest, as described in § 18-8-103, and therefore these sections do not violate equal protection. This section and § 18-8-103 require that the defendant act knowingly, whereas § 18-3-203 requires that the defendant act intentionally. Further, § 18-3-203 requires proof that the defendant intended to prevent a police officer from performing a lawful duty, which is not required for a conviction under this section. People v. Whatley, 10 P.3d 668 (Colo. App. 2000).

Here are the elements of Third Degree Assault:

Assault – Third Degree

The elements of the crime of assault in the third degree are:

That the defendant in the State of Colorado at or about the date and place charged knowingly or recklessly caused bodily injury to another person or with criminal negligence caused bodily injury to another person by means of a deadly weapon.

18-1-901(3)(p): “Serious bodily injury” means bodily injury which, either at the time of the actual injury or at a later time, involves a substantial risk of death, a substantial risk of serious permanent disfigurement, a substantial risk of protracted loss or impairment of the function of any part or organ of the body, or breaks, fractures, or burns of the second or third degree.

“‘Bodily injury’ means physical pain, illness, or any impairment of physical or mental condition.” Section 18-1-901(3)(c), C.R.S. 2003.

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