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Police Misconduct Laws in Colorado

Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors.

Many Colorado residents believe a police officer's job is to keep everyone safe, and that police will treat them fairly until they can "have their day in court." Unfortunately, this is not always the case.

Colorado's police misconduct laws are clear but finding the line between what is necessary for the officer's safety and what is illegal can be complicated. Police misconduct can involve any actions by staff and employees of the Colorado police force that are unethical, illegal, or in violation of your rights under the U.S. Constitution. However, law enforcement officers have some "qualified immunity" that protects them from civil lawsuits as long as they do not invade the victim's rights. Knowing your rights is the first step to knowing when misconduct occurs.

Colorado Police Misconduct Law Overview

The table below reviews the Colorado and Federal laws involving police interactions and arrests.

Statutes

Colorado's police misconduct laws are in Colorado's Revised Statutes, Title 18 (Criminal Code). The relevant sections are:

  • Section 18-8-404 - Misconduct by a government official in the first degree (a misdemeanor). This happens when the public servant maliciously causes harm or intends to (unlawfully) benefit from their actions or inactions.
  • Section 18-8-405 - Misconduct by a government official in the second degree (a petty offense). This happens when the public servant does not perform a required duty or violates an official rule or regulation.
  • Section 18-8-803 - Excessive force by a police officer. Using excessive physical force is considered a criminal act.

Federal Laws:

Your Rights During Police Interactions

You have individual rights that protect you from police wrongdoing. During an interaction with a police officer in Colorado, you have the right to:

  • Self-defense;
  • No unlawful search or property seizure;
  • Safety from physical assault or sexual misconduct;
  • Medical attention and care for a serious medical condition;
  • Officer intervention if you are being harmed; and
  • Remain silent and not incriminate yourself, apart from providing your identity when asked.

Colorado is one of the states that have "stop and identify" laws. If you refuse to identify yourself when asked, according to the law (Colorado's Revised Statutes, Title 16 (Criminal Proceedings) Section 16-3-103), you may be seen as obstructing an officer in their duties under Section 18-8-104(1). It is illegal to give a false identification when asked.

When Can You Be Legally Arrested?

Colorado only considers an arrest to be legal if the following criteria apply:

  • There are specific and articulable facts giving police probable cause to detain you;
  • There is visible evidence of a crime, or the officer has a valid warrant; or
  • There is reasonable suspicion or evidence that you intend to commit a crime.
Initiating a Civil Rights Claim Against a Colorado Police Officer

The federal government will always investigate a police misconduct crime through the Department of Justice (DOJ). To bring a police misconduct claim against the police branch or an individual, your attorney will need to prove:

  • Your rights under the Constitution or Colorado state laws were not upheld;
  • A police officer acted of their own free will; or
  • The officer was acting as a government authority figure at the time, known as acting under "color of law."

A civil rights attorney can review your case and instruct you on the next steps. Anyone can file a complaint against an officer of the peace through their local county prosecuting attorney or send a letter to the Denver FBI office:

Criminal Section
Civil Rights Division
U.S. Department of Justice
8000 E 36th Ave
Denver, CO 80238

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Limitations on Police Power: What Law Enforcement Can and Can't Do

Police misconduct is a national issue that causes significant problems, as not following these laws can result in wrongful convictions, wrongful imprisonment, and lawsuits for the state or officers. Because of this, official misconduct is taken very seriously by the courts. The most common types of police misconduct claims involve:

  • Illegal arrest with little to no proof (false arrest) or based on an unlawful search and seizure
  • Unlawful containment in jail or prison (false imprisonment)
  • Intimidating or scaring a person by filing charges (malicious prosecution)
  • Using excessive violence or force during suspect pursuit or arrest
  • Fraudulent, dishonest, or coercive statements and any illegal activities to force a confession
  • Violence, torture, brutality or wrongful death at the hand of an officer
  • Using their authority in an abusive manner, such as demanding sexual actions
  • Offering leniency in exchange for a confession or sexual activity

Learn More About Colorado Law

Colorado State Law - An overview of the general areas of Colorado state law
Official State Codes - Find the official online statutes (laws) for Colorado or other states

Related Resources for Police Misconduct:

Find a Civil Rights Attorney for Help Filing a Police Misconduct Claim

If you believe a Colorado police officer violated your rights or safety, you can bring a claim against them and/or their government branch. These cases are complex and often need professional legal help. Find a local attorney focused on police misconduct law to learn more.

Next Steps: Search for a Local Attorney

Contact a qualified attorney.