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.