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Understanding Colorado’s Homicide Laws

By Peters & Nolan, LLC on April 22, 2021

Murder and manslaughter are both crimes that involve the taking of another human life, but the line between the two can become blurred in a criminal case. In Colorado courts, the crime of manslaughter carries a lighter sentence than the crime of murder. Let’s see why.

What Is Murder?

In Colorado, murder can be classified as first or second degree. First-degree murder is defined as the deliberate killing of another human being with malice aforethought. “Malice” is knowledge and intention or desire to do evil, meaning the defendant was aware that his actions were wrong, while “aforethought” means that the defendant had planned to commit murder. This differs from second-degree murder, which requires no intent to take the life of a particular person, but rather a general, extreme indifference to human life.

First-degree murder can include several different scenarios, such as when a defendant:

  • Knowingly causes the death of a child under the age of 12, when the defendant is in a position of trust with that child.
  • Unlawfully sells, distributes, or dispenses a controlled substance to a person under the age of 18 on school grounds, whose death is caused by the use of that controlled substance.
  • Commits certain crimes (including kidnapping, sexual assault, and robbery) where the death of a person other than a participant is caused in the course or furtherance of committing those crimes.
  • Causes the death of another while knowingly engaging in conduct that creates a grave risk of death to another person or persons, under circumstances showing an attitude of universal malice and extreme indifference to the value of human life.
  • Procures the conviction and execution of an innocent person by perjury or subornation of perjury (inducing a witness to give false testimony).

What Is Manslaughter?

In comparison to murder, a person commits manslaughter when he or she recklessly causes the death of another person, or intentionally causes or aids another person to commit suicide. Here, “recklessly” means acting in a manner that involves a substantial and unjustifiable risk of death and choosing to engage in that action anyway, even while conscious of the risk.

Manslaughter can be voluntary or involuntary.

  • Voluntary manslaughter is considered a “heat of passion” crime. It occurs when a person is strongly provoked (under circumstances that could strongly provoke a reasonable person) and kills in a heat of passion caused by that provocation. The person cannot have had time to cool off from the provocation before committing voluntary manslaughter. Emotional context is a mitigating factor in this crime.
  • Involuntary manslaughter typically involves reckless or criminally negligent conduct that results in the death of a person, or unintentional killing in the course of committing a crime. A person who was more than ordinarily negligent, and caused someone’s death through that negligence, would be convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

Receiving a Reduced Sentence

The punishments for both these crimes are heavy. For first-degree murder, Colorado courts can sentence a defendant to life imprisonment. Manslaughter can be punished by imprisonment for two to six years and a fine of up to $500,000.

One of the main differences between manslaughter and murder is that murder involves malice aforethought and manslaughter does not. With the absence of malice aforethought, you can be charged with manslaughter and receive a lighter sentence and less time spent in prison. But this will come down to the skill and experience of your attorney.

If you or someone you love is facing a charge of homicide, contact Peters & Nolan, LLC, immediately. Our Grand Junction criminal defense lawyers can dig into the details of your case, negotiate for a reduced sentence, and fight for your freedom. To discuss your case today, call us at (970) 243-4357.

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Peters & Nolan, LLC is your ideal source for high quality legal representation throughout the state of Colorado. Known for being personable and responsive, attorneys Andrew J. Peters and Andrew Nolan are aggressive trial lawyers with an excellent record of trying and settling cases in criminal defense, DUI/DWAI and personal injury.

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