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Colorado Criminal Defense Blog

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Felony murder is a serious offense in the state of Colorado and carries with it significant penalties. Some lawmakers aren’t so sure, however, that this sweeping rule is right in every circumstance. Some are working to change it.

State legislators in Colorado introduced a bill that would change the way the state treats those that were involved in the murder but didn’t actually commit murder themselves.

The bill has since been killed but that doesn’t mean lawmakers won’t continue seeking ways this law could be changed for the better. Hopefully, the future will bring a Colorado in which those not physically involved in the murder aren’t automatically subject to life in prison.

In the meantime, here’s what you need to know about the felony murder rule in Colorado when it applies, and what penalties are on the table after a conviction.

What is the Felony Murder Rule?

In Colorado, a defendant who has committed certain felony crimes can be charged with first-degree murder if someone is killed during the commission of those crimes.

When a person commits or attempts to commit any of these crimes and someone is killed as a result, then they face felony murder charges:

  • Sexual assault
  • Arson
  • Escape
  • Robbery
  • Sexual assault on a child
  • Kidnapping
  • Burglary

If they, or someone they are committing the crime with, kills someone as they attempt to commit the crime or while fleeing the scene, then the felony murder rule is put into play. The felony murder rule can result in an accomplice receiving the same punishments as the person who carried out the murder.

If the Colorado bill regarding the felony murder rule had successfully passed, it would have lowered the charges from first-degree to second-degree murder.

Penalties Associated with Felony Murder

Felony murder is a Class 1 felony. The penalties for this offense are very serious as they result in life in prison without the possibility of parole. Murder in the second degree, on the other hand, is punishable by up to 24 years in prison.

Felony murder is not subject to fines, however, unlike second-degree murder where fines can be assessed into the millions of dollars.

It’s also important to note that minors can be subject to charges of felony murder and convicted of the offense. However, in the case of a minor, they will not face a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole.

Problems with Colorado’s Felony Murder Rule

You may wonder how felony murder differs from other charges of first-degree murder. While there are several differences under the law, the main differences refer to:


In the case of most murders, a person is killed with intent, meaning the person that murdered the victim intended to murder them. This crime is deliberate, with malice, and can be premeditated.

In contrast, in a case involving the felony murder rule, the intent of the person was to commit another felony, not necessarily murder. This means an intent to murder isn’t a necessary element of conviction under the felony murder rule in Colorado.


Culpability is also known as “fault” and is linked to intention. In many cases involving murder, the person who commits the murder is at fault for the death of the other person.

However, the felony murder rule doesn’t take into account whether someone is at fault for the death of another. Every party that participated in the underlying crime under the felony murder rule is responsible for the death.

Denver Murder Defense Lawyer

The purpose of the felony murder rule is to deter people from engaging in felonies, make people accountable for participating in a felony, and sentence them to life in prison so they cannot commit a felony again.

The question still stands, however, whether the issues with the felony murder rule create a situation of unfair penalties. For now, partnering with a skilled Colorado criminal defense attorney is your best defense against a felony murder charge.


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 & 2019” and a “Top 100 Trial Lawyers in Colorado” for 2012-2020 by The National Trial Lawyers. Both honors are limited to a small percentage of practicing attorneys in each state.  Additionally, Expertise names her to its lists of the 25 Best Denver DUI Lawyers and 21 Best Denver Criminal Defense Lawyers, both in 2020. Ms. Diego has also been recognized for her work in domestic violence cases.


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