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Colorado First-Degree Murder

The most serious crime and the most heinous form of homicide in Colorado is first-degree murder. Many different types of killings are considered first-degree murder. However, all of them have in common a malicious, deliberate component that makes them eligible for capital punishment or life imprisonment.

Even if a defendant isn’t found to have committed first-degree murder, he or she could be found guilty of a lesser murder charge, such as second-degree murder (another form of intentional murder), voluntary manslaughter (a “heat of passion” murder), or involuntary murder (an accidental killing).

Penalties and Sentencing

The harshest penalty, the death penalty, is still legal in Colorado. In a capital murder case, the trial is bifurcated or divided into two parts. First, a guilt or innocence part. Then, a sentencing hearing where evidence about the circumstances of the murder and the defendant’s background are presented to the judge or jury, to determine if the death penalty or life in prison without parole is more appropriate. The prosecutor will present aggravating factors (showing maliciousness or a lack of remorse) and the defendant will provide mitigating information (such as being abused as a child by the victim, mental illness less than insanity, etc.).

Colorado First-Degree Murder Statute

The following table details Colorado’s first-degree murder laws.

Code Sections

Colorado Revised Statutes Sections:

What is Prohibited?

Colorado prohibits murder in the first degree, including:
  • A deliberate, intentional killing of another
  • Causing a death of anyone (besides a criminal participant) while committing, attempting, or fleeing the scene of arson, robbery, burglary, kidnapping, sexual assault, sexual assault of a child, or escape from lawful custody (sometimes called felony murder)
  • By causing an innocent person to be convicted and executed due to perjury or persuading another to perjure
  • Causing someone’s death by knowingly engaging in conduct that creates a serious risk of death, because of an attitude of malice and extreme indifference to the value of human life (sometimes called depraved heart murder)
  • Causing a child under 18 to die from drug use after illegally selling or dispensing a controlled substance to him or her on school grounds (see special offender statute)
  • Killing a child under 12 years old when the person was in a position of trust with the victim (abusing a child to death)

First-degree murder is a Class 1 felony. Class 1 felonies can be punished by at a minimum, life imprisonment, and at a maximum, the death penalty.

First degree murder of a cop, firefighter, or EMT can be punished by life imprisonment without the possibility of parole or the death sentence.


Some defenses to first-degree murder are common to other cases, such as innocence, self-defense, or insanity. The best strategy depends on the circumstances of the case.

There may be a specific defense in the law for felony murder, when the defendant was charged with first degree murder for a death caused while committing or attempting a violent felony. Speak to a lawyer to learn more.

Civil Case The victim’s family can sue the defendant for wrongful death, even if he or she wasn’t convicted of a homicide crime. This happened to O.J. Simpson, who wasn't convicted of murdering his estranged wife or her friend, but lost his wrongful death lawsuit. This is possible as civil cases have a lower standard of proof of preponderance of the evidence (basically more likely than not) instead of the criminal case standard of beyond a reasonable doubt.

Note: State laws change frequently, it's important to verify the laws you’re researching.

Research the Law

Related Resources

Facing a Felony in Colorado? Get Legal Help Today

Murder is the most serious charge on the books and one that shouldn't be taken lightly. The penalties are stiff and a conviction can impact your life forever. If you or someone you love has been accused of homicide, or any other serious felony, an experienced criminal defense attorney will be able to lay out your options and zealously defend you in court.

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