blog Violent Crime The Degrees of Homicide, Murder, and Manslaughter

The Degrees of Homicide, Murder, and Manslaughter

By Colorado Attorney-at-law on April 30, 2024

Homicide offenses are categorized into different degrees to reflect varying levels of intent or mens rea, a crucial legal principle referring to the mental state of the defendant at the time of the offense.

  • First-degree murder typically requires premeditation and deliberate intent, reflecting a higher level of culpability.
  • Second-degree murder may lack premeditation but still involves an intentional killing or a reckless disregard for human life.
  • Manslaughter involves a lesser degree of culpability, such as recklessness or negligence.

Categorizing homicide based on mens rea ensures that legal consequences align with the defendant’s mental state and degree of moral blameworthiness.

Homicide Categories Explained

First Degree Murder

According to Colorado Revised Statutes § 18-3-102, first-degree murder involves several scenarios: deliberately causing someone’s death, causing someone’s death by extreme indifference to human life, perjury leading to an innocent person’s execution, selling drugs to a minor on school grounds resulting in their death, or intentionally killing a child under 12 when in a position of trust.

It’s a Class 1 felony in Colorado, the most serious offense, carrying severe penalties. Legal privileges like doctor-patient or spousal confidentiality don’t apply in cases involving the death of a child where the accused is in a position of trust.

Defending against first-degree murder charges involves addressing the elements of premeditation, deliberation, and intent to cause death. The severity of this charge demands a robust defense strategy. Proving a lack of premeditation or establishing mitigating circumstances are common defense approaches. Additionally, challenging the prosecution’s evidence and ensuring due process are crucial in defending against this grave accusation.

Second Degree Murder

Under Colorado Revised Statutes § 18-3-103, second-degree murder encompasses knowingly causing someone’s death or participating in certain felonies where someone dies as a result. An affirmative defense is available if the defendant wasn’t the sole participant, didn’t commit the homicidal act, wasn’t armed with a deadly weapon, and didn’t engage in conduct likely to cause death. Diminished responsibility due to self-induced intoxication isn’t a defense.

Second-degree murder is generally a Class 2 felony that may be reduced to a Class 3 felony if committed in a sudden heat of passion provoked by the victim, except for factors related to gender, gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation.

Second-degree murder allegations involve understanding its distinction from first-degree murder, typically lacking premeditation and deliberation. Potential mitigating factors include lack of intent or involvement in felony crimes resulting in death.

Legal defenses may focus on disproving intent, demonstrating self-defense, or highlighting extenuating circumstances. Crafting a defense strategy requires meticulous examination of evidence and consideration of Colorado’s legal standards to mitigate the severity of charges and pursue a favorable outcome.


Colorado Revised Statutes § 18-3-104 provides that manslaughter occurs when a person recklessly causes another’s death or intentionally aids suicide. It’s a Class 4 felony. Exceptions include actions outlined in advance medical directives, such as living wills and palliative care provided by authorized medical caregivers to terminally ill patients with their consent. Palliative care aims to alleviate suffering and improve the quality of life for those with advanced illnesses. However, this statute doesn’t permit medical caregivers to assist in patient suicide. It emphasizes legal boundaries in end-of-life care and underscores the importance of informed consent and medical ethics in such delicate situations.

Criminally Negligent Homicide

Colorado Revised Statutes § 18-3-105 states that “any person who causes the death of another person by conduct amounting to criminal negligence commits criminally negligent homicide, which is a Class 5 felony.”

Defending against criminally negligent homicide charges involves addressing the concept of negligently causing someone’s death without intent but with a reckless disregard for human life. The prosecution must prove that the defendant’s gross deviation from reasonable care led to the death.

Defenses may focus on a lack of awareness of the risk or the absence of gross negligence. Professional legal counsel navigates the complexities of negligence law to protect defendants’ rights and secure favorable outcomes.

Vehicular Homicide

In accordance with Colorado Revised Statutes § 18-3-106, Vehicular Homicide occurs if a person recklessly drives or operates a vehicle, causing another’s death or intentionally aiding suicide while driving. It’s a Class 4 felony. If driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both causes a death, it’s considered a strict liability crime.

Different levels of alcohol or drug content in blood or breath trigger presumptions or inferences about impairment. Refusing tests can lead to license revocation and admissibility in court. Medical personnel can conduct tests in certain situations, and refusal to cooperate can be used as evidence. Courts must recognize methods and devices for alcohol or drug testing. The statute ensures accountability for fatal accidents caused by impaired driving and establishes procedures for testing and legal proceedings.

How a Breckenridge Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help

A Summit County criminal defense lawyer plays a vital role in protecting defendants’ rights, ensuring fair treatment, and providing effective representation in court. At Whitaker & Penix, LLC, we advocate for clients, challenge evidence, negotiate plea deals, and craft strategic defenses to achieve the best possible outcomes. Trust in our experience and dedication to safeguard your rights and liberties.

Contact our Breckenridge violent crime attorneys at (970) 368-0602 for a free consultation. Our firm provides personalized legal guidance and support through every step of your case.

Posted in: Violent Crime