More Trouble With Mail Pieces: The Felony Version

There’s a story in the main Denver newspaper today from Lynn Bartels about a woman who is unhappy that her picture was used in a negative mailer used to attack Rep. Sara Gagliardi that was sent out by Republican challenger Libby Szabo. But there’s more trouble with this mailer than just a complaint from someone who was featured without her permission, and Szabo could be facing a felony charge as a result. Can you spot the problem?

The mailer sent out by Szabo uses the State Seal of Colorado in the background, which under Colorado law is a Class 5 Felony. We can’t tell you why using the State Seal of Colorado carries such a harsh penalty, but the law is the law. The penalty for a class 5 felony is (a) a fine no less than $1,000 and a maximum of $100,000; (b) one to three years in prison; and (c) two years of mandatory parole.

In other words, somebody — Szabo, her graphic designer, her mail house, etc. — is in serious trouble here. It’s not like there’s really a good defense for this, because the proof is right there in front of you.  

27 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. and another thing says:

    To quote Szabo’s words from the mail piece, “How do they get away with it?”

  2. Jack Burden says:

    According to the CRS:

    Any person who illegally uses or affixes the seal of this state to any written or printed document whatever, or fraudulently forges, defaces, corrupts, or counterfeits the same, or affixes said forged, defaced, corrupted, or counterfeited seal to any commission, deed, warrant, pardon, certificate, or other written or printed instrument, or has in his or her possession or custody any such seal, knowing it to be falsely made and counterfeited, and willfully conceals the same, commits a class 5 felony and shall be punished as provided in section 18-1.3-401, C.R.S.

    So my question is, was the very use of this an illegal use? Is it illegal because the seal has been “affixed to any written or printed document whatever.”  In short, because I’m not a lawyer, is it absolutely illegal to use the seal or a facsimile of the seal if it’s not a government document? I’m not trying to be snarky or anything. I’m just kind of wonky and curious about the law.  

    • Colorado Pols says:

      We’d guess this will end up in a plea bargain, but you can’t use the state seal for anything without permission.

      • BillM says:

        You need to witness the crime, so just take your copy of the mailer; knock on her door and ask if she produced it; when she says “Yes” you can make a citizen’s arrest based on probable cause she has committed a felony. Then call the authorities to take her in; job well done!

        Might help to break the ice and get her to answer the door if you wear a “Tancredo for Governor” t-shirt.

        • Ralphie says:

          and stomp on her head while you’re at it.

          Oh wait, wrong state.

          • BlueCat says:

            gang dragging that woman to the ground…it took some time…then the one guy placing his foot on her head and neck and stomping down, was the most nauseating moment of this entire election season and looked exactly like films of Hitler’s Brown Shirts on the attack.

            Put that together with Miller’s goons detaining a reporter who asked a question he didn’t like and its pretty clear what this country would be like if the Tea Party ever took over.  All their alleged dedication to the constitution is crap.  The ignorant among them don’t know what’s in it and the ones in charge can’t wait for a chance to wipe their asses with it.

            I’m sure the righties will be quick to say the left is just as bad but I defy them to come up with footage of a Dem supporter or a non-Tea Party GOP type supporter, for that matter, that is in the same ball park as this disgusting display.  

            The Paul campaign has said that it has severed ties with the one volunteer (I suppose the stomper) but there was a whole gang involved who are all guilty of assaulting this woman.  I don’t care if she was yelling protests or rude remarks or even trying to push through the crowd. There is absolutely no excuse for what they did to her. None. Period.

            And it isn’t just a matter of violence on all sides as characterized by the Paul campaign statement.  Paul himself has said nothing. This isn’t the usual.  The Tea Party is definitely a whole different and extremely ugly animal. The ordinary people seduced by them should get out now.  

    • Jack Burden says:

      I’m not sure if this exactly qualifies. What’s displayed is actually a corruption of the official seal of the State of Colorado. The state’s motto, Nil Sine Numine, was omitted from this corruption of the seal.

      Does that still count?

    • and another thing says:

      I thought the same thing — a quick Google search shows what “illegal” means.  Illegal is any use not previously approved by the Colorado Secretary of State

      The Secretary of State alone is authorized to affix the Great Seal of Colorado to any document whatsoever, and then only, in pursuance of law. As custodian of the Seal the Secretary of State is responsible for its safekeeping and official use.


      All requests for use of the Colorado State Seal must be submitted to the Deputy Secretary of State in writing. A written response will be provided granting or denying the requested use based on the guidelines listed above.

      • ardy39 says:

        Remember these episodes of the Republican Senate Caucus displaying the State Seal multiple times on their website?

        • and another thing says:

          I do remember that episode, good catch.  I remember, at the time, thinking that the failure to prosecute the Republican felons was because Davidson was making a partisan choice to look the other way.

          Now that we have Buescher, who is less of a partisan hack, maybe we could see the issue prosecuted correctly.  I’m sure if Gessler wins, he would be sure to prosecute any Democratic violator.

  3. MADCO says:

    Which has she said she prefers?

    IT’s relevant becasuse it tells us a lot about her as a candidate.

    If she chooses “fine” – it says she doesn’t care about the law or consequences if she can buy her way out of trouble.

    If she chooses prison – it says she doesn’t value freedom.

  4. Old Time Dem says:

    Unless this is a strict liability statute, merely using an altered copy of the state seal is not likely to be a crime.

  5. Ellie says:

    The following news outlets will no longer be quoted at, nor will links be provided to their content. We ask that all Colorado Pols users also follow these guidelines and refrain from referencing or linking to content from these sources (read this post for more information):

    You open with Lynn Bartels at the ‘other Denver newspaper’ which is at the top of your list.  Is there some gray area I’m missing here?


  6. Pam Bennett says:

    I have seen state seals as well as municipal and county seals. It is very sloppy at best and deliberate most of the time.

    Usually by time the courts get involved the elections are finished and there is not much interest in pursuing the felony.

  7. UNcommonSense says:

    Do you really not know what the State Seal in your own state looks like???

    I thought ColoradoPols would be much less gullible than this.

    • Jack Burden says:

      There is little doubt in my mind that the image that Szabo’s mailer relies on was intended to represent the Seal of the State of Colorado, despite its imperfections in star count and the lack of the State motto.

      That said, I think that Seal used in that mailer will qualify as a “corruption” of the Seal, which, according to my admittedly base knowledge of the statute, still qualifies as illegal. If you have knowledge to the contrary, however, I’d really love to hear it. I’m trying to figure all this out from a legal perspective, so if you know something I don’t, or if I’m wrong, please let me know!  

      • JeffcoBlue says:

        The law is specific about usage of the seal:

        Use of the Colorado State Seal

        The design of the Colorado State Seal is determined by statute (CRS 24-80-901). The Secretary of State is given the authority to affix and monitor the use of the Colorado State Seal (CRS 24-80-903). Illegal use of the seal is a class 5 felony (CRS 24-80-902).

        Since the office of the Secretary of State receives numerous requests for use of the Colorado State Seal, the Secretary of State has implemented the following policies:

        The actual seal itself, measuring two and one-half inches in diameter, may be used only by the Secretary of State in an official capacity.

        A facsimile of the seal, which is any size except two and one-half inches in diameter, may be used by an agency, organization or group authorized or established by an arm of the State of Colorado for official state functions, or for educational purposes.

        A facsimile of the seal may not be used by any private organization, business, or political organization.

        There is no “wilfully misleading” or other qualifier. Where they’ll try to squeak is the fact that it’s not a perfect copy, but it still looks bad.

        But I doubt anybody goes to jail, Mike Coffman sent nasty letters but that’s all. I know a lot of other laws I’d like to see enforced this election first, I have to say.

    • Half Glass Full says:

      Seriously: I think Szabo is a turd but unless she’s using the seal with intent to impersonate the State of Colorado, and unless that stupid flier her idiot campaign manager produced looks like an official document in some manner, ain’t no way no how nowhere that she even gets charged let alone convicted. Get real.

      I do like the hammer-and-(almost)sickle type emblem on the seal, though. Very socialistic. And the fascist fasces. And the all-seeing Mason’s eye. Glenn Beck would have a field day with it.

  8. ohwilleke says:

    of the State of Colorado, I don’t see any prosecution happening.

    The felony is probably intended to prevent the equivalent of forgery accomplished by using the seal to imply the official endorsement of the state.

    In the context of political speech, the First Amendment provides a defense similar to that involved in using a U.S. flag contrary to the statutory flag code.

    Also, it may be, given the coloration, that the graphic designer had a source document with the seal and the picture and actually intended to color over the seal rather than intentionally trying to include it.

    There is also the question of size.  The Seal of the State of Colorado is a specific size (three inches, if I recall correctly, it was recently changed by legislation).  The same picture, if it is not the same size, is not the Seal of the State of Colorado.  Indeed, isn’t even clear if the image created, as opposed to the device that makes the impression is really the state seal at all.

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