Advocates are pushing for harsher punishments in the state of Colorado for domestic abuse-related crimes, following the death of Kristen Lockett of Limon. Lockett was killed by her husband on Jul 18, 2015. Lockett’s husband had several incidents of domestic abuse charges on his record.
The tragic murder of Kristen Lockett has many questioning whether the Colorado Habitual Offender Law is strong enough. The state has severe punishments for habitual offenders in accordance with this law passed in 2000. The law allows prosecutors to upgrade a misdemeanor charge to a felony if the defendant has three previous misdemeanor domestic abuse charges on their record. In an interview with the Denver Post, Arapahoe-Douglas County chief deputy district attorney Leora Joseph labelled the Habitual Offender Law a “charge with no teeth” and called for harder time for habitual domestic violence offenders.
Like many of Colorado’s laws, the Habitual Offender Law has good intentions behind it, but often plays out unpredictably in the practical realm of the courts. County and district judges can have different interpretations of the law, with some districts prosecuting habitual offenders with lesser sentences. Meanwhile, county courts can be stricter when following this statute, handing the defendant jail time for the same crime.
Under the Habitual Offender Law, a defendant can be charged with a Class 5 felony. The charge carries a mandatory incarceration sentence of 1 to 3 years, and/or a $100,000 fine. To label an individual as a Habitual Offender, the prosecution first must petition the court upon the defendant’s conviction of a misdemeanor domestic violence charge.
Following this statute, it’s often the responsibility of the prosecuting attorney to judge whether a defendant’s behavior constitutes a pattern of domestic violence, and whether the prosecution should push for a habitual offender conviction. Additionally, it is also up to the discretion of the prosecution to determine whether past criminal offenses fall under the blanket term.
Domestic violence laws are meant to protect victims, and for that reason they are very important in Colorado. Sometimes, however, the loose legal terminology results in innocent individuals getting accused of domestic violence. Many people have an image of domestic violence offenders as husbands or boyfriends beating their significant others, but the vague wording of Colorado’s definition of domestic violence can slap the “domestic violence” label on seemingly unrelated situations.
Colorado defines domestic violence as an act of violence or threat of violence against a person with whom the aggressor has or had an intimate relationship. Domestic violence also can mean any other crime or municipal ordinance violation committed against a third party or against property for the purpose of coercion, control, punishment, intimidation, or revenge directed at a person with whom the aggressor has or had an intimate relationship.
The loose terms of the definition leaves much up the discretion of prosecuting attorneys. For example, there does not have to be an actual act of physical violence—only a perceived threat—for a charge of domestic violence to be leveled against you. Furthermore, “has or had an intimate relationship” is also open to interpretation. While it does include spouses and significant others, in the past it has been used to include roommates, ex-girlfriends and boyfriends, and even coworkers.
Furthermore, the second part of the above domestic violence definition means any criminal act or violation could be labelled as domestic violence, so long as the prosecution believes it was for the purpose of intimidating, coercing, or getting back at a significant other. For example, if a woman breaks her ex-boyfriend’s car’s window, this falls under Colorado’s definition of domestic violence.
Domestic violence laws address a serious issue in the state of Colorado, and the laws targeting offenders are important and necessary. Equally important, however, is our system of due process, which entitles everyone to a strong defense that will work hard to guarantee the best possible outcome for their case. If you’ve been accused of domestic violence, contact a knowledgeable Colorado criminal attorney with a track record of success to defend your rights today.