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Self-Defense Colorado

Understanding Colorado Self-Defense and Initial Aggressor.

By: Lain A. Lawrence - Colorado Criminal Defense Attorney Jan. 30, 2024

Physical confrontations are not easy to deal with. Fights and physical confrontations happen fast and often without warning. Also, drugs or alcohol being a factor is not uncommon.  A common defense to crimes that involve psychical aggression is self-defense.

Self-defense is an affirmative defense under Colorado law. A defendant admits to committing the underlying offense. The law considers the action okay and not against the law.

Self-defense may seem easy to understand, but it can involve complex legal strategies. A self-defense attorney will know what facts are important and how to best present this type of defense. It is important to speak with a criminal law attorney to know how best to protect your rights. Knowing how to defend yourself outside the courtroom and inside the courtroom is crucial.

What is Self-Defense under Colorado Law?

Self-Defense is an affirmative defense. Colorado revised statutes at C.R.S. 18-1-704 defines the affirmative defense of self-defense. Justifiable use of force requires the defendant to establish two factors. 

First, the Defendant must demonstrate that someone is attacking him. This element includes actual physical attacks or potential attacks. The question is whether someone believes an attack will occur and if they have a valid reason for their belief.

Second, a defendant can only respond with the amount of force needed to repeal the attack. A defendant who is being attacked with deadly force can retaliate with deadly force. A defendant who is being attacked with non-deadly force cannot respond with deadly force.

A crucial part of a self-defense claim is that the defendant is not the initial aggressor. An initial aggressor does not have a right of self-defense.

What is an Initial Aggressor under Colorado Law?

At the end of evidence in a jury trial, the judge will instruct the jury on the applicable law. The instruction is compiled from standard Colorado Jury Instructions. The pattern jury instructions on self-defense have language concerning an initial aggressor.

The language of the jury instruction states self-defense is not applicable if the defendant is the initial aggressor. It can apply if the initial aggressor retreats and the other person continues the use of force.

The term initial aggressor is not defined. This typically means a jury will be instructed to use the common understanding of the term. The lack of definition means an several arguments can be applied to what an initial aggressor means.

The basic meaning of the term initial aggressor is the person that engages in aggressive behavior first. This does not have to be the first to use physical force, but it can be someone that makes threats or presents them as a danger. The jury must decide if the defendant thought someone would attack them and if it was a reasonable belief.

What are factors that are relevant to determining the initial aggressor?

The term initial aggressor is broad. It does not mean the first person to use force. The law allows self-defense when someone is being attacked or thinks they will be attacked. 

The first person to use force can be an important factor, but it is not the only factor to consider. A person that is acting hostile or aggressive, without using force, can be considered the initial aggressor. It depends on the facts of the case.

Everything needs to be considered when looking at the initial aggressor. Motive is a crucial factor. An individual with a motive to be hostile would be more likely to have a physical confrontation than a defendant with no need to fight. Additionally, alcohol or substance use can be a major contributing factor in deciding who was the aggressor.

The way a fight progresses can also be a major factor. Fights happen fast, and each interaction is unique. Fights will also have unique stories. A one-sided fight or when one person is more hostile helps identify the initial aggressor.

A fight can also show someone that is offensive and defensive. These roles are seen through the injuries that are inflicted or the actions that are taken during the fight. Remembering the fight or understanding everything about physical confrontations is crucial for knowing how to proceed.

Self-defense is extremely dependent on the facts of a particular case. It is extremely important to speak with a criminal defense attorney to know how best to present your case. Most criminal defense lawyers will provide a free consultation to discuss your situation.

Is Self-Defense Applicable to Domestic Violence Case? 

Self-defense is a common defense presented in domestic violence cases. The defense takes on a slightly different approach. Primarily, the intimate relationship between the parties creates a variation in the approach that is taken.

The domestic relationship will cause the motives of the parties to be different. In these cases, the defendant is not engaging a random stranger. Disputes concerning custody or allegations of cheating are common reasons for a physical confrontation. 

Past interactions can potentially be introduced at trial. The Colorado Rules of Evidence do not permit prior bad acts to be introduced.  The exception to this rule is that prior acts can be used to show a common motive, scheme, or plan. 

Previous actions may also be important to demonstrate the reasonableness of thinking an attack was imminent.  Speaking to a domestic violence attorney is crucial if you have a domestic violence case with a possible self-defense argument.


Criminal charges are serious, and allegations involving physical force can seriously impact a defendant’s future. It is important to have an aggressive and competent criminal defense attorney. These types of cases could impact your gun rights or custody rights.

Our firm routinely represents individuals accused of crimes involving self-defense. We are open during regular business hours, but we will stay late or be available at weekends if necessary.

We offer flat fee agreements to all our clients that are charged with a crime. Our criminal lawyer will work with your budget. We will happily discuss options at the initial consultation.

We are ready, willing and able to discuss your case with you. Our firm defends against domestic violence charges on a regular basis. We handle cases in Denver, Aurora, Arapahoe County, Adams County or any court in the State of Colorado.