Colorado’s Unlawful Sexual Contact and Sexual Assault Charges: What’s the Difference?

In Colorado, there are different criteria for different sexual crimes. While at first glance, unlawful sexual contact and sexual assault may seem very similar, there are some major differences between them.

Charges for sex crimes in Colorado can differ vastly depending on specific factors that each case presents. The two general groups for sex crimes in Colorado are unlawful sexual conduct and sexual assault. Here’s what you need to know about unlawful sexual contact and sexual assault charges in Colorado and what the exact differences are between them.

Unlawful Sexual Contact: What Is It According to Colorado Law?

Unlawful sexual contact is committed under Colorado law if someone knowingly touches someone else’s intimate parts or knowingly accepts touching to their intimate parts (even on top of clothing) where:

  • There was no consent from the victim
  • It is known that the victim is not capable of consent
  • The defendant debilitated the victim through the utilization of alcohol, drugs, or other substances for the purposes of submission
  • The defendant knows the victim is helpless physically and cannot consent
  • The defendant is a medical provider who examines or treats the victim in a way not consistent with acceptable therapeutic practices
  • The victim is in the hospital or in custody, and the defendant uses their authority over the victim in order to coerce them
  • A child under the age of 18 is induced or coerced to engage in sexual contact or expose themselves to another for sexual purposes

It is also important to understand that if two people have been in a relationship, that isn’t enough to constitute consent. Additionally, submission under the influence of fear is not considered consent.

Colorado Sexual Assault: What Is It?

There are various ways someone can commit sexual assault, and each carries with it a different classification and possible penalties. In general, sexual assault is committed by someone if they knowingly inflict sexual penetration or intrusion on a victim when:

Colorado Springs Sexual Assault Defense Lawyer

  • The victim is submitting to the act against their will
  • The victim is not capable of evaluating their conduct
  • The victim consented mistakenly without understanding of who the perpetrator was
  • The victim was under the age of 15, and the perpetrator was a minimum of four years older
  • The victim was between the ages of 15 and 17, and the perpetrator was not their spouse and was older by at least 10 years
  • The perpetrator used their power as a medical provider to attack the victim under the pretext of treatment
  • The victim was in the hospital or in custody, and the perpetrator used their authority to gain the victim’s submission
  • The perpetrator understood that the victim was physically powerless and had not permitted to the encounter

The Big Difference Between the Two Colorado Crimes

What is the major difference between unlawful sexual contact and sexual assault? While the law may use vague terms such as intimate parts and sexual contact, what it comes down to is penetration.

In Colorado, sexual assault is charged when penetration occurs. With unlawful sexual conduct, only touching is required.

Penalties for Unlawful Sexual Contact in Colorado

When convicted of unlawful sexual contact in Colorado, it is a Class 1 misdemeanor and subject to the maximum penalty as an extraordinary risk crime. This results in a sentence in jail between six months and two years and fines of up to $5,000.

If, however, the perpetrator used force, intimidation, or threat to gain the victim’s submission, then the crime can be a Class 4 felony. This raises the sentence to a minimum of two years or a maximum of life in prison.

Penalties for Colorado Sexual Assault

Sexual assault crimes generally result in being charged with a Class 4 felony. That carries a sentence of between two years and prison for life. There are, however, a few enhancements or exceptions.

When the victim is between the ages of 15 and 17 years old and the perpetrator at least ten years their senior, then a Class 1 misdemeanor may be charged. That carries with it a punishment of between six months and two years in prison.

If the victim was unable to consent, or the perpetrator used threat or force for compliance, or the perpetrator used a substance for submission, then it is a Class 3 felony. That is punishable by 4 years to life in prison. If a lethal weapon was used in the commission of the crime, or the victim undergoes serious bodily injury, then it is a Class 2 felony, punishable by a possible life sentence with the lowest possible sentence of 8 years.

Penalties for Colorado Sexual Assault

Additionally, there may be fines, requirements for parole, evaluation, and treatments, and other consequences such as having to register as a sex offender associated with Colorado sex crimes. When facing such life-changing penalties, you need to put forward the strongest defense possible.


About the Author:

Andrew Bryant is a well-respected Colorado Springs criminal attorney who has been practicing in the area for years. A Colorado native, he returned to the home he loves after graduating from the University of Kentucky College of Law. Now, he uses the knowledge he gained as an El Paso County District Attorney to fight tirelessly for his clients’ rights. He is AV-Preeminent rated, has been recognized for his work by The National Trial Lawyers, and has been named to Best of the Springs lists by The Gazette for years.