What is Colorado’s “Mistake of Law” Defense?

You may have heard it said that “ignorance of the law is no excuse.” In Colorado, being mistaken about the criminal laws is no excuse for breaking them – except in one very specific situation, known as “mistake of law.”

A “mistake of law” defense relies on a confusion about whether a particular act is allowed or prohibited by law. “Mistake of law” can’t be used to defend a lack of knowledge about what the law is. However, this defense can be used if two laws, rules, or regulations conflict about whether an act is permitted or not. Specifically, a “mistake of law” defense may be used if:

  • the act is permitted by a valid Colorado statute or ordinance,
  • the act is permitted by a valid Colorado administrative regulation, order, or grant of permission from an official who has the power to give such permission under law, or
  • the act is permitted by a valid, written interpretation of a Colorado law, which comes from a person, agency, or court with the power and responsibility of interpreting such laws. Interpretations from courts must be made by courts whose decisions are legally binding in Colorado.

Put another way, “mistake of law” may not be used as a defense in Colorado unless a specific statute, rule, regulation, or interpretation of a statute, rule, or regulation exists that permits the conduct involved.

Because this defense relies on a thorough knowledge of often-complex laws, it’s crucial to discuss it with an experienced attorney. At The Bussey Law Firm, P.C., our passionate Colorado Springs criminal defense attorneys will fight to protect your legal rights and to raise any defense that will help lead to the best possible outcome in your case. For a free and confidential consultation, contact us today at (719) 475-2555.

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