Justified Use of Force in Colorado

The time for holiday shopping and family get-together preparations is about to reach its summit. People are rushing to and from their vehicles with hardly a second glance at their surroundings. One distracted moment is all a criminal needs to get into your vehicle to steal your belongings, or worse, make you the victim of an assault or robbery. Situational awareness is key: be mindful of your surroundings, gravitate toward lit areas in parking lots, scan the area for any possible threat, and have a plan in mind for retreat or cover. But what happens when a law-abiding gun owner finds themselves in the sights of a criminal?

During the holiday season, many holiday shoppers are caught unaware by theft or robbery. It is critical that you, as a law-abiding gun owner, understand what legal response is allowable and justified for each of these criminal actions before you find yourself in the middle of one of these terrifying incidents.

Understanding Justified Use of Force

Especially if you carry a handgun, knowing the law on the justified use of force and deadly force to prevent a crime will help you develop a plan before an incident takes place. Theft and robbery are all too common around the holidays. We don’t want you to become a victim, so let’s address each of these.


Let’s imagine that you’re walking out of a store after shopping for presents. It’s late, but the parking lot is still pretty full of last-minute holiday shoppers. You push your cart across the lot while practicing situational awareness. The cart is just loaded with bags of presents you’ve bought for your family and friends. Upon reaching your car, you let go of the cart and begin searching for your keys. Just then, a person appears out of nowhere, grabs a few of the bags from the cart, and starts running away. This is known as “theft.”

A person commits theft when he or she knowingly obtains, retains, or exercises control over anything of value of another without authorization, or by threat or deception, with the intent to deprive the other person permanently of the use or benefit of the thing of value. C.R.S. 18-4-401.

Generally, theft alone with no other aggravating factors does not justify the use of deadly force.


Let’s change our earlier scenario. This time, the parking lot is pretty empty, save for a cluster of cars where you’re parked. As you reach your car and begin searching for your keys, a masked man appears from behind the car. He tells you quietly that you can either let him walk away with the shopping cart, or he’ll kill you. This is defined by the law as “robbery.” Robbery occurs when a perpetrator knowingly takes anything of value from the person or presence of another by the use of force, threats, or intimidation. C.R.S. 18-4-301.

Aggravated robbery occurs if during the act of robbery, or immediate flight therefrom, the perpetrator possesses any article used or fashioned in a manner to lead any person who is present reasonably to believe it to be a deadly weapon or represents verbally or otherwise that he/she is then and there so armed. C.R.S. 18-4-302(d). Robbery, as opposed to theft, may create a risk of serious bodily injury or death. Aggravated robbery certainly does.

Understanding that risk, Colorado law provides that deadly force is justified if:

  1. The person reasonably believes a lesser degree of force is inadequate; and
  2. The other person is committing or reasonably appears about to commit robbery or aggravated robbery. C.R.S. 18-1-704(2)(c).

If, however, a lesser degree of force would be adequate to defend against the threat, a person is only justified to use a degree of force which he/she reasonably believes to be necessary for that purpose. C.R.S. 18-1-704(1).

In Colorado, a person is typically not permitted to use deadly force to prevent the theft of personal property, but may use reasonable and appropriate physical force upon the thief when and to the extent that he/she reasonably believes it necessary to prevent the theft.

Colorado, like many other states, emphasizes the reasonableness of the actor’s belief as it relates to the imminency and degree of the threat. As such, deadly force should only be used as a last resort to prevent imminent death or serious bodily injury to yourself or others.

Armed with situational awareness and an understanding of the self-defense laws in Colorado, you can protect yourself from the criminal element and keep yourself on the right side of the law this holiday season.

For any further questions regarding self-defense over the holiday season, call U.S. LawShield and ask to speak to your Independent Program Attorney.

The preceding should not be construed as legal advice nor the creation of an attorney-client relationship. This is not an endorsement or solicitation for any service. Your situation may be different, so please contact your attorney regarding your specific circumstances. Because the laws, judges, juries, and prosecutors vary from location to location, similar or even identical facts and circumstances to those described in this presentation may result in significantly different legal outcomes. This presentation is by no means a guarantee or promise of any particular legal outcome, positive, negative, or otherwise.