Felony Murder Laws in Colorado
In Colorado “murder” is a somewhat generic term for an individual taking the life of another person. Colorado has broken murder down into several different crimes with different severities in terms of the potential punishment. All forms of Murder in Colorado are felonies and range from a class one felony, first degree murder, to a class five felony, criminally negligent homicide, with the sentencing ranges being from capital punishment, to probation.
At common law, in order to commit a crime, one needed two main components, a mental state, called Mens Rea, and a physical act, called Acteus Reus. When talking about murder, the acteus reus is almost always the same. (the sole exception being felony murder which will be discussed below) That is an individual taking the life of another.
The mental states for murder in Colorado are as follows:
First degree murder is “with intent and after deliberation” taking the life of another. Although we don’t call it premeditation, that is what it is somewhat akin to. The theory being is that prior to taking the others person’s life one must have the intent to kill and deliberate on that intent. There is a second first degree murder subsection called with extreme indifference. This is when a person is killed by another when that person exhibits an attitude of universal malice manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life generally and that person knowingly engages in conduct which creates a grave risk to that person and a death occurs.
Second degree murder is “knowingly” taking the life of another, this is considered a lesser mental state and the person that commits this crime is considered less culpable than first degree murder. The reason is that, knowingly can happen without “after deliberation” meaning that there is not necessarily the time to ponder on the decision.
Second degree murder heat of passion. Heat of passion is the theory that you come across a startling event that in essence causes you to lose your mind for a brief period of time and to act without any rational thought.
Reckless Manslaughter is the taking of the life of another person done when that person consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that a result will occur or that a circumstance exists.
And finally, criminally negligent homicide is when a person kills another person by failing to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk that a result will occur or that a circumstance exists.
Felony murder is a separate category of murder and does not have the same mens rea as the types of murder that were discussed above. Felony murder is a class one felony, and carries possible punishment of life in prison without the possibility of parole, or the death penalty.
Felony murder is when, during the commission of certain, enumerated crimes, (Aggravated robbery, burglary, arson, kidnapping) a person is killed. The person charged with felony murder does not have to participate or even know that the killing is about to occur. It is also irrelevant whether or not the person charged with felony murder wanted to actually commit the murder. The theory is that the crime that the person was committing is so dangerous that if it results in the death of another, for any reason, that is akin to wishing that the person was dead. The above mentioned mens reas do not count and it is considered a strict liability crime. Felony murder has been criticized by many people over the course of the last half century and has been outlawed in the United Kingdom. Many legal scholars believe that felony murder leads to unjust results, nevertheless it is still the law in the state of Colorado.