What are the Legal Consequences of a Bar Fight?


The mix of alcoholic beverages, rowdy music, and lively conversation makes an evening in a bar or club a lot of fun. Unfortunately, alcohol also loosens inhibitions, and that doesn’t always work to our benefit. Sometimes there are things we regret the day after a night out, but waking up in jail the morning after a bar fight isn’t what most people expect in the “morning after.”

You might have more to worry about than a just hangover if your night on the town ended in a bar fight. You might even wake up in a jail cell wondering, “What are the legal consequences of a good time turned bad?”

Can I Be Charged With a Crime for a Bar Fight?

Intoxication doesn’t excuse anyone from the consequences of a bar fight. Depending on the severity of the fight, whether or not anyone was injured, and the property damage caused to the bar itself, a bar fight in Colorado can result in one or more of several charges including the following:

  • Disorderly conduct
  • Disorderly intoxication
  • Fighting by agreement
  • First, second, or third-degree assault
  • Manslaughter

Bar fights begin for various reasons. Sometimes poor sportsmanship after a dart game or game of pool, sometimes an argument over one person crossing the line with another patron’s spouse or partner, or two people settling an old grudge or a brand new one. Because alcohol lowers inhibitions, people sometimes act out of character while intoxicated.

What Are Disorderly Conduct and Disorderly Intoxication Charges?

Bar fights are loud, disruptive, and frightening to bar staff and customers. The most common charges resulting from bar fights are disorderly conduct and disorderly intoxication. Both charges stem from disturbing the peace. Disorderly intoxication is a variation of the charge and occurs when the person engaging in the disorderly conduct is belligerently drunk and becomes a threat to others.

Disorderly conduct and disorderly intoxication charges in Colorado are second-degree misdemeanor crimes with fines and possible jail time for a conviction.

What is Fighting By Agreement?

You might think you’re doing the right thing if you’re in a shouting match in a bar and ask the other person to “step outside.” While this might save property damage to the bar, by agreeing to a fight, you and the other person involved could face charges of fighting by agreement. This is a class-1 petty offense. However, if the agreed-upon fight includes deadly weapons the charges become the class-4 felony charge of dueling.

Can I Be Charged With Assault for a Bar Fight?

Assault is a common charge in bar fights. A charge of assault doesn’t always mean a physical attack. A verbal exchange that threatens violence or the attempt to commit violence against someone else is assault in Colorado. If one person purposefully commits actions that cause another to believe they are in imminent danger, it’s assault. Depending on the severity of the assault, the charges could be:

  • Third-degree assault (the most common in bar fights) is a misdemeanor crime of knowingly inflicting injury on another or accidentally causing injury with a deadly weapon
  • Second-degree assault is a felony charge of inflicting serious harm on another person or injuring a police officer. Drugging a person at a bar without their consent is also second-degree assault. A conviction results in fines and mandatory jail time
  • First-degree assault is a felony charge for inflicting serious bodily injury on another person with a deadly weapon, causing permanent disfigurement or amputation, or causing a significant risk of death

The worst-case scenario for a bar fight is one that causes the death of a participant. If you’re in a bar fight and the other person dies from their injuries, you’ll face a serious manslaughter charge. A conviction brings incarceration.

What If I Didn’t Start the Fight?

While it’s common to claim that the other person started the bar fight, the charges are the same whether you started the fight or only participated in it. Self-defense is a possible legal defense, but not if you reacted with more force than necessary to defend against a blow.

If a night on the town results in criminal charges for a bar fight in Colorado, an attorney can help you understand your rights and obligations under the law.