Murder vs. Manslaughter in Colorado

When someone kills another human being, we call it murder – but not all murder is created equal.

Just like other states, Colorado defines several different types of murder. Depending on the specific circumstances of these violent crimes, someone here could be accused of murder in the first degree, felony murder in the first degree, murder in the second degree, provoked passion murder in the second degree, manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, or vehicular homicide.

But what is the difference between these various murder charges?

Generally, actual murder charges are considered intentional killings, whereas manslaughter charges are considered accidental killings.

Let’s look at the two categories a bit more closely.

Types of Colorado Murder Charges

In our state, intentional murder is divided into two charges: murder in the first degree, and murder in the second degree.

Murder in the first degree is considered the most heinous and violent of these offenses. The law defines it as intentional, deliberate, premeditated, and malicious. This means the defendant wants to kill someone, thinks about killing them, and then makes a plan to kill them. In Colorado, someone convicted of murder in the first degree can face capital punishment or a life sentence.

Murder in the second degree is an intentional killing, but the elements needed for murder in the first degree are missing. The defendant didn’t deliberate or premeditate the killing. Instead, they reacted to a situation, wanted to kill someone, and did. Second degree murder is a Class 2 felony.

Murder in the second degree also covers crimes of provoked passion. These crimes are often called heat of passion crimes or, in some states, voluntary manslaughter. If someone provokes an “irresistible passion” out of you and you kill someone in the heat of that passion, you can be charged with murder in the second degree as a Class 3 felony instead of a Class 2 felony.

Denver Murder Defense Lawyer


Colorado Manslaughter Charges

If someone accidentally kills another person, they will most likely be accused of manslaughter. But manslaughter can also have different variations, just like murder.

Manslaughter is recklessly causing the death of another person, or intentionally causing or aiding another person to commit suicide. So manslaughter on its own has two very different definitions depending on the situation.

Recklessly causing the death of another person is an accidental death. For example, if you’re holding a gun that accidentally goes off and kills someone, you could be charged with manslaughter. And if you intentionally help or cause someone to commit suicide, it is also recognized as manslaughter – even though the definition has the word “intentionally,” which would typically classify it as a murder charge.

In both cases, manslaughter is a Class 4 felony.

Criminally negligent homicide is causing the death of another person by conduct that is criminally negligent. Basically, this means engaging in actions that create an unreasonably high risk of death to others. So if you keep a loaded gun in the house and it accidentally goes off, killing someone, you could potentially be charged with criminally negligent homicide, a Class 5 felony.

If you accidentally kill someone while driving a motor vehicle, you could be charged with vehicular homicide. Vehicular homicide is causing another person’s death through recklessly driving a vehicle, a Class 4 felony, or because the driver was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, a Class 3 felony. If the driver was under the influence, however, it is a “strict liability” crime. That means no intent to harm or state of mind is required to be guilty.

Regardless of the actual charges, the death of another person is taken seriously in our state, and a conviction for murder or manslaughter can ruin your life. If you have been accused of any of the above crimes, contact an experienced Colorado criminal defense attorney so you can fight back and protect your rights.


About the Author:

Denver-based criminal defense and DUI attorney Jacob E. Martinez is a knowledgeable and experienced litigator with a record of success providing innovative solutions to clients facing criminal charges of any severity. Mr. Martinez has been designated a Top 100 Trial Lawyer by the National Trial Lawyers and has been awarded both the Avvo Client’s Choice Award and Avvo Top Attorney designation, evidencing his reputation for his exemplary criminal and DUI defense work and high moral standards.