Prosecutors and Colorado Law Treat Stalking Seriously. So Should You.
If you face charges for felony criminal stalking in Colorado, you better take it seriously. Prosecutors do. So does Colorado law. That’s because stalking, which involves repeated conduct, statements, or threats designed to cause a victim emotional stress and make them fear for their safety or that of a loved one, is often a predecessor to acts of actual violence.
Deterring such escalation is why the penalties for felony criminal stalking in Colorado are severe and why you need to have an experienced and tenacious criminal defense attorney in your corner if you find yourself in prosecutors’ crosshairs.
Colorado’s Felony Criminal Stalking Law: “Vonnie’s Law”
Colorado enacted its felony stalking law, also known as “Vonnie’s Law,” in 2012. When Colorado did so, the legislature stated that it passed the law “with the goal of encouraging and authorizing effective intervention before stalking can escalate into behavior that has even more serious consequences.”
Stalking, as defined in Colorado law, is not about annoyance or rudeness. Anti-stalking laws like Vonnie’s Law don’t ban a one-time ill-advised comment or action. Stalking is about a pattern of conduct that is so extreme, so threatening, and so disturbing that the victim is justifiably and reasonably scared not only by the stalking itself but about what may happen next.
As defined in Colorado Revised Statutes section 18-3-602(1), felony criminal stalking involves three key elements:
1. A Credible Threat
The first element Colorado prosecutors must prove to obtain a felony stalking conviction in most cases is that the accused made a “credible threat” to the victim or a member of their immediate family.
The law defines a “credible threat” as statements, physical acts, or repeated conduct that “would cause a reasonable person to be in fear” for their safety or the safety of their immediate family (a spouse, parent, grandparent, sibling, or child) or of someone with whom the person has or has had a continuing relationship.
As discussed below, however, you can go to jail for stalking even without making a “credible threat” if the conduct itself causes the victim serious emotional distress.
2. Repeated Conduct
Prosecutors can’t base a felony stalking charge on a single occurrence – whether it be a physical act or communication through email, the phone, or otherwise. “Repeated” conduct,an essential element of the crime, must occur, and that requires more than one event.
Specifically, conduct in connection with a credible threat that can constitute felony criminal stalking in Colorado includes:
- Repeatedly following, approaching, contacting, or placing under surveillance the victim, a member of their immediate family, or someone with whom they have or had a continuing relationship; or
- Repeatedly making any form of communication with the victim, a member of that person's immediate family, or someone with whom they have or had had a continuing relationship, regardless of whether a conversation ensues.
3. Serious Emotional Distress
Even if you don’t make a credible threat, your ongoing conduct can be threatening in and of itself and support a felony criminal stalking conviction.
You can face charges if you repeatedly follow, approach, contact, place under surveillance, or communicate in any way with the victim or a member of their immediate family “in a manner that would cause a reasonable person to suffer serious emotional distress” and does, in fact, cause serious emotional distress to that person, a member of their immediate family, or someone with whom that person has or had a continuing relationship.
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Penalties for Felony Criminal Stalking in Colorado
Not only is stalking a felony in Colorado, but it’s also an “extraordinary risk” crime. Extraordinary risk means you’ll face the possibility of a lengthy time behind bars.
- First-time felony stalking conviction. A class 5 felony, a first conviction for felony stalking can result in a sentence of between one and five years in Colorado state prison, a mandatory two-year parole period, and/or fines of up to $100,000.
- Second or subsequent felony stalking conviction. If committed within seven years of a prior stalking conviction, a second or subsequent offense is a class 4 felony. Upon conviction, you could spend between two and ten years in prison followed by mandatory three-year parole, and/or a fine of between $2,000 and $500,000.
- Stalking in violation of a court order. Stalking is also a class 4 felony if it occurred while the accused was under an injunction, protective order, or other court order which prohibited communication or contact with the victim.
Charged With Felony Criminal Stalking? You Need to Protect Yourself NOW
Given the harsh consequences of a felony criminal stalking conviction in Colorado, you need to take immediate action to protect your rights, reputation, freedom, and future if prosecutors believe you committed such acts. An experienced Colorado Springs criminal defense lawyer can help prepare the strongest possible defense against the charges and give you the best chance of putting the ordeal behind you.