There is no crime more serious than taking the life of another person. In Colorado, this crime is punishable by as little as 2 years in prison — up to the death penalty.
If you’re facing murder or a lesser homicide charge, you are likely scared and overwhelmed. This type of charge could send you to jail for decades. That is why it is so crucial to have an experienced, dedicated criminal defense lawyer to represent you.
At McCabe Law, we thoroughly investigate the facts of each case to uncover evidence and build a strong defense for our clients. We work throughout Colorado helping people just like you, standing by our clients’ side and aggressively advocating for them throughout the criminal justice process.
With compassion and skill, attorney Janene K. McCabe will fight for you to achieve the best possible outcome based on the facts of your case. Contact our office today at 720-328-0739 or email us to schedule a consultation.
Degrees of Murder Under Colorado Law
In Colorado, the intentional killing of another human being can be charged as either first-degree or second-degree murder. The difference between the offenses comes down to whether the killing was premeditated.
First-degree murder is generally defined as the deliberate and premeditated killing of another person. For example, if you laid in wait to shoot another person, and killed that person as a result, you could be charged with first-degree murder in Colorado.
However, there are other circumstances under which a prosecutor could charge first-degree murder. They include:
- If a person dies during (or while attempting to flee from) the commission or attempted commission of arson, robbery, burglary, kidnapping, sexual assault, or serious sexual assault on a child, the perpetrator could be charged with first-degree murder. This is the felony murder rule. In essence, if someone — other than you or an accomplice — dies while you commit certain serious felonies, you could be charged with first-degree murder. This is true even if the death is accidental, such as from a heart attack.
- If a person dies because a perpetrator acted with extreme indifference to the value of human life and knowingly engaged in conduct that created a grave risk of death to that person. For example, if you set fire to a house, knowing that there was a possibility that people were inside of it, that may be charged as first-degree murder.
- If an innocent person is convicted and executed as a result of another person’s perjury, which could be charged as first-degree murder under Colorado law.
- The unlawful distribution, dispensation or sale of a controlled substance to someone under 18 on school grounds that leads to that person’s death will be charged as first-degree murder.
- Finally, if someone in a position of trust with a child under the age of 12 knowingly causes his or her death, that person will be charged with first-degree murder
In Colorado, first-degree murder is the most serious criminal offense, punishable by life in prison, or the death penalty. Although there has been a move towards abolishing the death penalty in Colorado, it is still currently a valid and legal punishment in the state.
Second-degree murder is different from first-degree murder in that it does not require premeditation. It occurs when a person knowingly causes the death of another person, but without premeditation (planning or forethought).
For example, if you are involved in a bar fight where the other guy died, it could be charged as second-degree murder. Your actions may have been knowing — such as continuing to strike the other guy in the head after he was no longer fighting back — but did not involve any sort of advance planning. In that situation, the prosecution would likely charge you with second-degree murder.
The punishment for second-degree murder depends on the facts of the case. It could result in as little as 4 years in prison or a maximum sentence of 48 years imprisonment. Second-degree murder may also carry a fine of between $3,000 to $1,000,000.
Lesser Homicides in Colorado
Beyond first- and second-degree murder charges, if a person causes the death of another in Colorado, there are three other potential criminal offenses that may be charged. These include manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, and vehicular homicide.
Under Colorado law, manslaughter occurs when a person recklessly causes the death of another person, or when you intentionally cause or aid another person to commit suicide. For the second part, this means that assisted suicide is a crime in Colorado, and will be charged as manslaughter.
For first part, acting reckless means that you act in a manner that involves a substantial and unjustifiable risk of death, and although you are aware of the risk, you choose to engage in the action. Even if you do not specifically intend to cause someone’s death, if you knowingly engage in conduct that creates this risk, you could be charged with manslaughter. This crime is punishable by a fine of up to $500,000 and between 2 and 16 years in prison.
For example, imagine that you are at a friend’s house in a densely-populated area, celebrating the Fourth of July. When people are setting off fireworks in the neighborhood, you decide to go outside and shoot your gun in your air as part of the “celebration.” A bullet strikes a neighbor, killing her. Although you had no intent to kill her — you were just shooting in the air to have fun — your actions were reckless and created a substantial and unjustifiable risk of death. You will likely be charged with manslaughter as a result.
Criminally negligent homicide is charged whenever a person causes the death of another through criminal negligence. Under this law, criminal negligence is a failure to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk of death that will result from a particular action. Criminally negligent homicide is punishable by between 1 and 8 years in prison and/or a fine of up to $100,000.
Criminally negligent homicide may sound similar manslaughter, but there are important differences. With manslaughter, you are aware of “a substantial and unjustifiable risk of death” from your conduct, but you choose to ignore it. With criminally negligent homicide, you don’t see the risk.
In many cases, criminally negligent homicide is a lesser-included offense of manslaughter, and juries will convict a defendant on this charge if a prosecutor cannot convince them that a defendant was aware of the risk of death from his conduct. In many cases, a skilled Boulder criminal defense attorney can work out a deal with a prosecutor to reduce a manslaughter charge to criminally negligent homicide.
Finally, vehicular manslaughter may be charged if another dies when a person drives in a reckless manner, or while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. For the charge to stick, the person’s driving must be the proximate cause of the death (the “but for” cause).
For example, if you drive drunk and hit a pedestrian, killing her, you could be charged with vehicular manslaughter as a result. However, if the pedestrian dies of cancer — an unrelated cause — then you may not be charged with vehicular manslaughter (but will still face criminal charges for driving under the influence and hitting a person while driving drunk).
The penalty for vehicular manslaughter depends on what you were doing when the crime occurred. If you were driving recklessly (such as drag racing), you could be sentenced to between 2 and 6 years in jail and/or a fine of between $2,000 and $500,000. However, if the charge stemmed from driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, your penalty could result in between 4 and 12 years in prison and/or a fine of between $3,000 and $750,000.
Defending Against Murder and Homicide Charges in Colorado
There are a number of potential defenses to murder and lesser homicide charges under Colorado law. The specific defense used will depend on the facts of your case, as well as the charge brought by the prosecutor.
For example, if the police conducted an illegal search of your home — such as searching it without a warrant — then your lawyer may be able to file a motion to suppress any evidence that they gathered as a result of that illegal search. If a judge grants that motion, then this evidence cannot be used in court against you. A successful motion to suppress may lead to a reduction of the charges against you, or even a dismissal.
Alternatively, your attorney may be able to argue that you are the victim of mistaken identity, or simply that you did not commit the crime. In some situations, you may be able to claim self-defense or that the killing was otherwise justified. Each criminal case is unique, and your lawyer will work with you to help develop a strong factual and legal defense to the charges against you.
Work with a Boulder Criminal Defense Attorney
At McCabe Law, we understand the stress our clients are under when facing criminal charges. We put our clients’ needs first, and work hand-in-hand with them to fight for their rights and freedom.
Attorney Janene K. McCabe has nearly two decades of experience representing clients throughout Colorado, including as a public defender. Based in Boulder, she works with clients in Broomfield, Adams, Arapahoe, Jefferson, Larimer, Weld and Denver Counties. With substantial trial experience, she works to achieve the best possible outcome for her clients.
While facing murder or lesser homicide charges can be frightening, McCabe Law is here to help. Contact our firm today at 720-328-0739 or online to schedule a consultation with a Boulder criminal defense attorney.