If you are arrested and charged with homicide, it is an understatement to say that those charges are serious and your situation dire. In fact, homicide charges are the most serious charges that exist in Colorado law.
Not all homicide charges are the same, though. Just because you are accused of homicide does not mean that you will be facing the death penalty. Depending on the circumstances, you may face one of a few different charges that each have different levels of penalties.
These different charges are there to take into account unintentional killings and violent crimes committed “in a sudden heat of passion.” For example, defendants convicted of first-degree murder may face the death penalty or life in prison, but some homicide charges (class 5 felonies) only result in a recommended one to three years in prison. Obviously, that is a huge difference, so you need to know what you are up against and what the prosecution must prove in each instance.
6 Homicide Charges Detailed Under Colorado Law
The charges for homicide in Colorado include:
Vehicular Homicide – You may be charged with vehicular homicide if you cause a car accident that results in the death of a passenger, pedestrian, or another driver. If you are simply driving recklessly, vehicular homicide is a class 4 felony. If prosecutors can prove that you were driving under the influence of alcohol, the charge is a class 3 felony. Your blood alcohol content must be at .08 for charges to be increased. However, a blood alcohol content between .05 and .08 can be used as evidence in a reckless driving case.
Criminally Negligent Homicide – If you engage in criminally negligent behavior that causes the death of another person, you may be charged with this crime – even if you did not have homicidal intentions. This charge is a class 5 felony, but if the victim had a disability, the charge becomes a class 4 felony.
Involuntary Manslaughter – Other reckless behaviors that cause the death of another person may be charged as manslaughter. Intentionally aiding or causing the suicide of another person is also considered manslaughter. These charges are a class 4 felony.
Voluntary Manslaughter – This provision could be added to mitigate a second degree murder charge. Voluntary manslaughter describes a homicide that was committed in a sudden heat of passion. If the victim or an outside circumstance ignited a sudden burst of anger or similar emotion in the defendant, the charge may become less serious. This is still a very serious charge, however, and is a class 3 felony in Colorado.
Second Degree Murder – When someone has the intention to kill another person and does so, they can be charged with murder. If the murder can be defined by the following, the defendant will be charged with second degree murder:
- An unplanned murder that was committed with malice and intention
- A murder that resulted from the intention to commit serious bodily harm
- A murder that shows an indifference to human life
Second degree murder is a class 2 felony in Colorado.
First Degree Murder – First degree murder is the most serious charge in Colorado law. It is a charge reserved for the following situations:
- Deliberate and intentional killing of another human being
- Felony murder – causing the death of another while committing or conspiring to commit robbery, arson, burglary, kidnapping, or sexual assault
- Causing the death of another person through perjury
- Engaging in conduct with extreme indifference to human life
- Causing the death of a minor through drug use or distribution
- Causing the death of a child under the age of 12 while he or she is in the offender’s care (murder by child abuse)
- Causing the death of a peace officer, firefighter, or EMT
The minimum punishment for class 1 felonies like first-degree murder is life imprisonment. If the victim was a peace officer, firefighter, or EMT, the defendant will be brought up on separate charges and will face a minimum penalty of life in prison without parole. Also remember that the death penalty is still allowed in Colorado for crimes like first-degree murder.
Defending against Colorado Homicide Charges
Why are the different homicide charges important to know? It may help you or your lawyer mitigate your charges or sentence. If the prosecution cannot prove your intention to kill, the recklessness of your behavior, or your indifference for human life, you may face fewer years in prison. The difference between a class 4 and a class 3 felony, for example, is the difference between up to 6 and up to 12 years in prison.
There are other defense strategies available for defendants accused of murder: false accusations, alibis, acting in the heat of passion, and so on. To properly utilize these defense strategies, though, you will need the experience and skills of a homicide defense lawyer. For more information about how a lawyer can help you work toward dropped charges or a mitigated sentence, reach out to us as soon as possible.
About the Author:
Kimberly Diego is a criminal defense attorney in Denver practicing at The Law Office of Kimberly Diego. She obtained her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and her law degree at the University of Colorado. She was named one of Super Lawyers’ “Rising Stars of 2012” and “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012-2016 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state. She has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.