A New Citation Format for the Colorado Revised Statutes

by Tom Morris

While trying to read a statute to unravel its meaning, have you ever felt dismayed or sidetracked when you came across a phrase such as this: “as specified in sub-subparagraph (D) of subparagraph (III) of paragraph (g) of subsection (4) of this section”? That’s a lot of words—what is a “sub-subparagraph”, anyway?—and understanding them is made even more difficult due to the fact that they’re presented in reverse order from how most of us probably think. It’s as if, to describe how much money was being appropriated, we said “19 cents, 235 dollars, 452 thousand dollars, and 2 million dollars” instead of “2,452,235.19 dollars”. Surely, a better format for statutory references is possible.

Well, the Office of Legislative Legal Services has decided that a better format is possible, and, in drafting bills for the 2017 regular session, we have already started using it.

First, it’s important to understand the scope of the changes. When a statute refers to a portion of a different statute, that’s called an “external” reference, and we don’t use the format described above. Instead, if you’re in a statute other than section 24-30-122, the reference would previously have been something like “section 24-30-122 (4)(g)(III)(D), C.R.S.”. The main difference in external references going forward is that we’re dropping the “C.R.S.” (the abbreviation for “Colorado Revised Statutes”). We figure that, if you’re reading title 8, you know when you see a reference to section 24-1-104, it’s referring to a section in another title of the Colorado statutes and that we’re not straying down the freeway and into another state’s statutes.

Second, we used to include the number of a title or article only when the reference was located in a title or article other than the one being referenced, but we would always include the part number regardless of whether the reference was in or out of that part. We will now treat titles and articles as we currently treat parts: We’ll always include the article and title number (so references to “this article” in statute now become “this article 12,” for example).

The most significant changes we’re making relate to “internal” references. For example, if the reference is located in section 24-30-122 and the reference is to a portion of that same section, that’s an internal reference. Instead of listing the various types of C.R.S. subdivisions (sub-subparagraph, subparagraph, paragraph, and subsection) in reverse order, we’ll use a format similar to that used for external references. So if you’re in section 24-30-122, the reference will usually be “subsection (4)(g)(III)(D) of this section”.

There are a few things to note about this new format. First, we’re no longer going to refer to sub-subparagraphs, subparagraphs, or paragraphs; every internal reference to a C.R.S. subdivision will be to a “subsection”. Second, for both external and internal references, we will no longer put a space between the parentheses—so it will be “(2)(a)” rather than “(2) (a)”. Third, if the internal reference is to the same subdivision where the internal reference is located, we will include the complete string of higher-level subdivisions in the reference. For example, we used to write “this paragraph (d)”, but now we’ll write “this subsection (3)(d)”. Finally, every internal reference to a different subdivision will end with “of this section”. We used to write “paragraph (a) of this subsection (1)”, but now we’ll write “subsection (1)(a) of this section”.

Here’s a table that summarizes our old and new citation formats for internal references:

Format Before 2017 Format Beginning in 2017
this paragraph (d) this subsection (3)(d)
this sub-subparagraph (C) this subsection (1)(e)(II)(C)
paragraph (a) of this subsection (1) subsection (1)(a) of this section
subparagraph (III) of paragraph (b) of this subsection (4) subsection (4)(b)(III) of this section
sub-subparagraph (A) of subparagraph (IV) of paragraph (c) of subsection (2) of this section subsection (2)(c)(IV)(A) of this section

Finally, we will make these changes only prospectively and only in those sections of statute that are included in bills; we will not update the citation format for the entire C.R.S. through the publications process. All new citations will follow the new format. The bill drafters, subject to the sponsors’ preferences, will update existing references in the same way that other grammatical or terminology updates to existing statutes are made.

So there will be some inconsistency in the C.R.S. in how our statutory references are phrased for quite some time. But we’ve concluded that using a citation format that is as specific and accurate as our current system—and that uses less terminology and is more concise, easier to understand, and more internally consistent—is an easy choice. We hope that you’ll agree!