Homicide

1st and 2nd Degree Murder

Homicide offenses are criminal offenses that result in the death of the victim.  In Colorado, murder, manslaughter, vehicular homicide, and negligent homicide are all homicide offenses.  There are two different kinds of murders in Colorado, first and second degree murder.  First degree murder is when the offender kills another and they had the intent to kill when they committed the act.  The law requires that it be after deliberation which basically means premeditated.  It can also be a killing that resulted from an offender acting with extreme indifference to the value of human life, selling drugs to minors at school when the drugs are the cause of the death, or the killing of a child under 12 years old by a person in a position of trust.  First degree murder carries a mandatory life sentence in Colorado.

Second degree murder is when the offender knowingly causes the death of another.  Someone acts knowingly when they know a death is practically certain to occur as a result of their actions.  Second degree murder also includes what is typically referred to as felony murder.  If an offender is committing or attempting to commit certain enumerated felonies, and during the commission or attempted commission of that felony a death occurs, the offender can be charged with second degree murder.  The most common underlying felonies used in felony murder cases are felony arson, robbery, burglary, kidnapping, and certain sexual assault.  An example of felony murder would be if someone is committing a robbery with a gun and the gun accidentally fires resulting in the death of the victim.  Despite the killing being unintentional, it would be considered second degree felony murder because the killing occurred during the attempted robbery.  If the killing occurred while the offender was running from the scene, it would also be considered 2nd degree felony murder.  A conviction for second degree murder can carry up to 48 years in prison. 

Manslaughter

Manslaughter is a recklessly causing the death of another or intentionally causing or aiding someone in committing suicide.  Most manslaughter cases in Colorado involve reckless actions causing death.  An example of manslaughter would be if an offender starts a fight with someone.  They may not intend to kill them, but the offender strikes the victim so hard that he dies.  The act of initiating the fight and striking the victim would be the reckless activity that resulted in a death.  Manslaughter is a class 4 felony and carries 2-6 years in prison.

Defenses to Murder and Manslaughter

Someone charged with murder or manslaughter can argue that the killing was justified and that they acted in self-defense.  In Colorado, a person can use deadly force to protect themselves or another person if they reasonably believe it is necessary to prevent serious bodily injury or death.  They can also use deadly force to prevent a kidnapping or sex assault.  Deadly force can also be used by the occupant of a home or business against a burglar who is using or attempting to use force against any occupant.  Self defense is determined on a case-by-case basis and requires an examination all the facts. 

In many first degree murder cases, the defense may be that the defendant is guilty of a lesser crime such as second degree murder or manslaughter.  If a defendant can show that the death was more of an accident than an intentional killing, they may be able to get a murder charge reduced to manslaughter.  Prosecutors will often overcharge a defendant with a more serious crime than thy actually committed, so arguing for a lesser offence is a common defense strategy. 

It is also possible that the police arrested the wrong person for a homicide crime.  Police will often consider motive, opportunity, and the suspects relationship with the victim in their homicide investigations.  However, just because someone has a motive, opportunity, or may have had a contentious relationship with the victim does not mean they are the killer.  There needs to be additional proof such as DNA, fingerprints, or eyewitnesses to the killing.  DNA and fingerprint testing can sometimes be flawed, but even if there is a valid match to a suspect, it may not mean that they are the killer.  If a suspect is the spouse of the victim, it would be reasonable for their DNA and fingerprints to be on the victim or their belongings.  Eyewitness identifications can also be very unreliable and false identifications are the leading cause of wrongful convictions in the United States.  There may also be grounds to challenge an eyewitness identification if police do not follow proper procedures when obtaining the information from the eyewitness.   

Vehicular Homicide

Is when someone is driving a car in a reckless manner or while under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or both and causes an accident that results in death.  If the driver was reckless, but not under the influence, the penalty will be 2-6 years in jail.  If the driver, was under the influence, they will 4-12 years in prison.  The reckless driving or intoxication must also be the proximate cause of the death.  Proximate cause means that the death was caused by the offender’s actions.  If the death was caused, by something other than the accident, the accident would not be considered a proximate cause of death.  For instance, if a reckless or intoxicated driver causes an accident and the victim dies after an allergic reaction to medication given at the hospital, the actions of the driver would not be considered a proximate cause of the death. 

There are many possible defenses to a vehicular homicide case.  The most common would be that the driver was not reckless or impaired.  It can also be a defense that the defendant was not actually at fault for the accident.  Officers usually do not witness the accident in vehicular homicide cases.  They usually come upon the scene after and have to reconstruct what happened and conduct an investigation.  An improper investigation may lead officers to erroneously believe that a suspect caused the accident.  However, the defense may find witnesses or other evidence that shows the driver was not reckless or the cause of the accident.  Even if the driver is impaired, they have to have caused the accident to be charged with vehicular homicide.  If an intoxicated driver is struck by someone who runs a red light, and that driver dies, the intoxicated driver should be charged with DUI and not vehicular homicide because the intoxicated driver did not cause the accident. 

In vehicular homicide investigations, officers will usually draw blood from the driver they suspect is intoxicated.  That blood will be given to a crime lab to set for levels of alcohol and drugs to determine if the driver was actually impaired.  There could be problems with the way the blood was handled and tested that could impact the accuracy of any chemical testing.  A successful challenge to a blood test will exclude the results from being admissible at a trial.  If that is the case, the prosecution would have to rely on other evidence to support intoxication.  If the driver, is on video and appears alert and there is no other evidence of impairment other than the blood test, the driver may avoid a vehicular homicide case.   

Call Ben LaBranche if You Have Been Arrested for a homicide offense.

Homicide cases very serious offenses and you will need an experienced lawyer to assist you in your defense.  Call Ben LaBranche at (225) 927-5495 if you have been arrested for murder, manslaughter, or a vehicular homicide offense. 

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