Colorado: Fast Facts on Trespassing
- Trespass Law Covers: Residential and commercial buildings, land, vehicles.
- Crime Class: Felony, misdemeanor or petty offense depending on degree.
- Fencing Required?: No, but trespassing past fencing and other obstructions to entry constitutes a more severe offense.
- Signage Required? No.
- Verbal Notice Required? No.
Colorado Trespassing Law Overview
Compared to some other states, Colorado’s trespassing laws are brief, to the point and easy to understand. While this is something of an advantage, on the other hand the broadly inclusive language may mean you could get tagged with a trespassing charge even if you don’t really deserve it.
Colorado classifies trespassing into several degrees, first, second and third with the severity typically being dependent upon what barriers or other obstructions to entry are crossed or breached in order to main access illegally to the property and what type of property someone happens to be trespassing on.
This is an important distinction since the degree determines the penalty schedule. Trespassing in one form or another is a felony about half the time in Colorado, so you know they take it seriously.
Despite this variation in penalty schedule, the law is easy to understand for almost anyone. We will dig into it just below.
Relevant Colorado State Statutes
- Colorado Statute 18-4-502 First degree criminal trespass
- Colorado Statute 18-4-503 Second degree criminal trespass
- Colorado Statute 18-4-504 Third degree criminal trespass
- Colorado Statute 18-4-504.5 Definition of premises
The best place to begin is always at the beginning. In the case of the law, the best place to begin is always with the definitions, since common words in everyday use may entail other, specific meanings you aren’t expecting in the context of the law.
When we are talking about Colorado law that means we need to start at the end since the definitions come after the other state statutes defining and codifying trespassing.
Specifically we need the definition of “premises” in Colorado. We get it in 18-4-504.5:
18-4-504.5. Definition of premises
As used in sections 18-4-503 and 18-4-504, “premises” means real property, buildings, and other improvements thereon, and the stream banks and beds of any nonnavigable fresh water streams flowing through such real property.
Simply stated any land you own, improved or unimproved, is considered a premises for the purposes of trespassing in the state of Colorado.
This could mean outbuildings, this could mean a business it could mean a bear dirt lot. It does not matter.
“Real Property” has the simple definition of “fixed property, typically land or buildings”, so the inclusion of that terminology alone means the premises is defined about as broadly as possible in the English language.
Colorado also took a little extra ink to clarify that any body of water within, contained by or flowing through or over said premises is part of the premises.
So, in essence, a trespasser cannot make a sneaky maritime entrance on your property and get away scot-free.
Moving on to the actual statutes concerning trespassing, we begin with 18-4-502 which defines first degree criminal trespass, the most severe in Colorado:
18-4-502. First degree criminal trespass
A person commits the crime of first degree criminal trespass if such person knowingly and unlawfully enters or remains in a dwelling of another or if such person enters any motor vehicle with intent to commit a crime therein. First degree criminal trespass is a class 5 felony.
Short and sweet.
If you were to knowingly and unlawfully enter the dwelling of any other person or enter their motor vehicle with the intention of committing a crime of any kind you’re guilty of trespassing in the first degree which is a felony in Colorado.
Tell someone who enters a home with the intention of burglarizing it or invading it and taking the owner’s captive is certainly guilty of first-degree Criminal Trespass as is a carjacker or Highwayman.
For those of you out there who are real legal beagles and nitpickers, you might puzzle over what constitutes “knowingly”.
For all practical purposes if it can be proven or even suspected that you were up to no good or engaged in some nefarious task while on or in property that does not belong to you expect to get tagged with a felony in Colorado.
Doesn’t sound so bad, right? After all, you are a good guy or a good gal and are not up to no good.
Not so fast. Consider this altogether too plausible theoretical example: What if one was to accidentally stray onto someone else’s land unknowingly, and you just so happen to do so while you were armed.
Maybe you’re out hunting. Maybe you were out shooting cans and targets. If someone really wanted to press the issue, could they try to claim that you were poaching animals on their land?
I’m not saying they will, but they certainly could. Keep that in mind and pay attention where you are traveling in Colorado. While easy to understand, laws that are written broadly and inclusively like this are often ripe for abuse.
Moving swiftly along to section 18-4-503, which covers trespassing in the second degree. Slightly less severe than the previous section but still no joke in the state of Colorado:
18-4-503. Second degree criminal trespass
(1) A person commits the crime of second degree criminal trespass if such person:
(a) Unlawfully enters or remains in or upon the premises of another which are enclosed in a manner designed to exclude intruders or are fenced; or
(b) Knowingly and unlawfully enters or remains in or upon the common areas of a hotel, motel, condominium, or apartment building; or
(c) Knowingly and unlawfully enters or remains in a motor vehicle of another.
(2) Second degree criminal trespass is a class 3 misdemeanor, but:
(a) It is a class 2 misdemeanor if the premises have been classified by the county assessor for the county in which the land is situated as agricultural land pursuant to section 39-1-102 (1.6), C.R.S.; and
(b) It is a class 4 felony if the person trespasses on premises so classified as agricultural land with the intent to commit a felony thereon.
(3) Whenever a person is convicted of, pleads guilty or nolo contendere to, receives a deferred judgment or sentence for, or is adjudicated a juvenile delinquent for, a violation of paragraph (c) of subsection (1) of this section, the offender’s driver’s license shall be revoked as provided in section 42-2-125, C.R.S.
Subsection one paragraph (a) defines trespassing where one had to bypass fencing or other obstacles designed to exclude intruders or knowingly and unlawfully remaining in the “common” areas of a hotel, condominium, apartment and similar buildings as a second-degree misdemeanor.
It also notes second degree trespassing may be upgraded to felony status instead of a misdemeanor if one trespasses on agricultural land with the intent to commit a felony on that land.
This language is similar to that found in the previous section for first-degree trespassing.
Subsection 1 paragraph (c) details that entering unlawfully and remaining in the motor vehicle of another person is trespassing in the second degree.
This is distinct from the definition in the previous section for first-degree trespassing in that you have entered and remained in the vehicle with no intent to commit a crime. Possibly a small but important difference.
Lastly we come to trespassing in the third degree, defined in 18-4-504:
18-4-504. Third degree criminal trespass
(1) A person commits the crime of third degree criminal trespass if such person unlawfully enters or remains in or upon premises of another.
(2) Third degree criminal trespass is a class 1 petty offense, but:
(a) It is a class 3 misdemeanor if the premises have been classified by the county assessor for the county in which the land is situated as agricultural land pursuant to section 39-1-102 (1.6), C.R.S.; and
(b) It is a class 5 felony if the person trespasses on premises so classified as agricultural land with the intent to commit a felony thereon.
Third degree trespass is the simplest of all of them in Colorado. If you unlawfully enter or remain on the premises of any other person it’s trespassing. The end.
Admittedly, this is not much of an offense since third degree criminal trespass is merely a petty offense in Colorado, not even a misdemeanor, but it can be a misdemeanor if you do so on agricultural land.
As with the previous section trespassing on any agricultural land with the intent to commit a felony upgrades the penalty schedule to felony-level. Colorado is awfully serious about behavior on agricultural land, apparently.
Colorado trespassing laws are simple and easy to understand for anyone. Their plain language and broad definitions means there be very little in the way of misunderstanding or weaseling out of a trespassing charge.
On the flip side of the coin, however, that same broad language can easily be misconstrued against you if a landowner wants to stick it to you.
Make sure you pay close attention to where you were going in Colorado, especially when you’re out hiking or involved in other rambling pursuits in nature.