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Colorado Second-Degree Murder

Homicide cases are divided into multiple degrees or levels. First-degree murder covers the most repugnant, violent, or pre-planned murder, while manslaughter covers accidental killings. In between is the catch-all second-degree murder. In Colorado, second-degree murder is also a catch-all.

Voluntary Manslaughter

Colorado also keeps what other states call voluntary manslaughter or “heat of passion” murder law within the second-degree murder statute. A sudden passion murder is one a person is provoked by something that causes them (and would cause an ordinary person) to be angry and act irrationally by killing someone.

An example of this is if a person walks in on his or her spouse sleeping with another person. The person could be so shocked he or she grabs the gun in the nightstand and shoots them both. This could be voluntary manslaughter. If, on the other hand, the person walks in sees this, then immediately runs away and comes back two days later to kill his or her spouse, there was time to cool down and it’s murder again.

Penalties and Sentencing

Capital punishment is still a legal option in Colorado. However, only first degree murder can result in the death penalty. The Colorado sentencing guidelines suggest a maximum penalty for second degree murder of 48 years, which for most people would result in a life sentence.

Colorado Second Degree Murder Statute

The following table outlines the main parts of the second degree murder laws in Colorado.

Code Section

Colorado Revised Statutes Section 18-3-103: Murder in the Second Degree

What is Prohibited?

Second degree murder in Colorado is knowingly causing the death of another person.


Second degree murder is a Class 2 felony generally penalized by a presumptive minimum of 8 years and maximum of 24 years, with five years parole. However, second degree murder is a violent crime which has a higher maximum of twice the usual maximum sentence, thus 48 years would be the presumed highest end of the punishment range.

Murder in the second degree is reduced to a Class 3 felony where the death was caused during a sudden heat of passion, caused by a highly provoking act of the victim, which excites the defendant sufficiently, and that a reasonable person in his or her place would also be provoked. However, if there was time to cool down from the excitement, it would be a Class 2 felony.

Class 3 felonies are punished by 4-12 years, but again, as a violent crime, 24 years would be the presumed upper limit.


The most appropriate defense to any murder charge will vary based on the facts of the crime. Traditional defenses, such as innocence, self-defense, or insanity could apply. However, intoxication, if self-induced, isn’t a viable defense for second degree murder. Drinking excessively can negate the state of mind needed for first degree murder, but the killing could still be second degree murder.

Civil Case A wrongful death case is when the surviving family sues for the death of a loved one. A defendant can be found not guilty in a criminal case, but still lose a wrongful death lawsuit. That happened, notoriously, to O.J. Simpson. Civil cases are tried at a lower standard of proof of preponderance of the evidence or the death was more likely than not caused by the defendant. However, criminal cases must be proven by beyond a reasonable doubt.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Related Resources

Facing Second-Degree Murder Charges in Colorado? Get in Touch with an Attorney

Second-degree murder charges are extremely serious and professional legal assistance is highly recommended if you're facing charges of this kind. So, if you've been charged with second-degree murder in Colorado, contact a local criminal defense attorney who can help you better understand the charges you're facing and assist in identifying defense strategies.

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