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Murder in the First Degree

Classified under Homicide and Section § 18-3-102 of the Colorado Revised Code, murder charges in the first degree are the most serious in Colorado’s statutes. Murder in the first degree is also known as premeditated murder and is punishable by life in prison.

In the following article, we’ll go over what is required for a first-degree murder charge and how an experienced defense attorney can fight it.

First-Degree Murder Attorneys

If you are charged with any form of homicide, including murder, manslaughter or vehicular homicide, then you need a strong defense attorney to represent you in court. Homicide investigations are difficult to fight and can be extremely complex. Murder charges last a lifetime, and if you are convicted then it is likely you will never step foot outside of a prison again.

If you’ve been charged with murder, contact The Law Office of Matthew Martin for the strongest legal defense in Colorado.

To request an initial consultation call (303) 725-0017.

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Understanding Premeditation

Premeditation, the key factor in a first-degree murder case, refers to the fact that the defendant had ample time to plan, consider and execute his or her plan. Unlike crimes of passion, premeditation requires the individual to make a conscious, thought-out decision to kill another person.

Because the murder is premeditated, the individual has had time to consider the consequences of their actions and is found to have made a singular decision to kill another person.

Premeditated murders are viewed by the court as containing “express malice”, and those convicted are found to have shown:

  • Extreme indifference
  • Cold-bloodedness
  • Aggravated recklessness

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Understanding First vs Second-Degree Murder

The key difference between first and second-degree murder is intent. Consider the following scenarios:

Scenario A

Frank is walking down the street at 10 p.m. He lives in a rougher area of town, so he carries a firearm. Someone calls out to Frank, and he stops. A second later, Frank is tackled to the ground. In the scramble, he manages to grab hold of his gun and shoots his assailant, who dies a short while later.

Self-Defense: Frank would likely not be found liable as he acted in self-defense.

Scenario B

Frank is visiting a bar. He’s had some alcohol, and so has everyone else. A big man has been eying Frank all evening, and decides he doesn’t like the way he looks. The man starts insulting Frank, and an argument ensues. Eventually, Frank gets fed up and pushes the man. He falls backward, cracking his head on a stool on the way down, and dies instantly.

Second-Degree Murder: It is likely that, if charged, Frank may be found guilty of second-degree murder or possibly manslaughter. This is because Frank did not think about the consequence of his actions, but did intend to harm the other person. As a result, the man died. This is a crime of passion.

Scenario C

Frank is walking down the same street as in Scenario A. This time, he’s looking for a fight. He carries a loaded gun, and he’s just waiting for someone to jump him. Eventually, someone puts their hand on his shoulder and he spins around, shooting the person. Frank leaves without calling the police.

First-Degree Murder: Frank intended to kill someone that night. Premeditation does not require the accused to have a specific target in mind, and Frank’s determination to “look for a fight” is grounds for premeditation and thus first-degree murder.

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First-Degree Murder vs. Self Defense

In some cases, an individual can be charged with murder after an incident of self-defense.

State v. Rittenhouse is one example – Rittenhouse was accused of intentionally aggravating Black Lives Matter protestors with the hope to exercise his “stand your ground” rights. Rittenhouse was acquitted.

Similarly, State of Florida  v. Dunn saw 49-year-old Michael Dunn kill 17-year-old Jordan Davis, a black man, which he claimed was in self-defense. However, the state argued that he did not warn Davis about his weapon, and instead took advantage of the opportunity to kill someone. Dunn was found guilty of first-degree murder.

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Alternative First-Degree Murder Charges

There are several instances in which you may be charged with first-degree murder without directly killing a person. These include:

  • Committing perjury in a trial which results in the conviction and execution of an innocent person
  • Unlawfully distributing or selling a controlled substance like marijuana or ecstasy to a child under the age of 18, the result of which is the child’s death
  • Knowingly causing the death of a child under 12 while occupying a position of trust

The above circumstances acknowledge that you share direct responsibility for the death of another person.

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Colorado officially abolished the death penalty in 2020. It had only executed one man since it was reinstated in 1974 by popular vote.

First-Degree Murder is punishable by life in prison without possibility of parole. However, a person under the age of 18 who is found guilty of a class 1 felony will face a minimum of life in prison with a possibility for parole after 40 years.

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Defenses for first-degree murder seek to either dispel any responsibility in the death of the other person, or to reduce the charges to second-degree murder or manslaughter.
Self-Defense: This defense applies when you were in imminent danger of being killed or seriously injured. Your attorney will argue that your actions were a necessary and reasonable response to this threat. This defense requires proving that the fear of harm was reasonable and that the force used was proportional to the threat. If you produced a firearm and the other person backed away before you fired, this is likely not self-defense. Similarly, you may argue that you acted in defense of others.
Accidental Killing: If the death occurred as a result of an accident, and the accused was not acting negligently or recklessly, this can be a defense to a first-degree murder charge. It must be shown that the accused did not intend to cause harm and that any reasonable person could have acted similarly in the same situation.
Insanity Defense: This defense argues that the accused was unable to understand the nature of their actions or distinguish right from wrong due to a severe mental disease or defect at the time of the crime. Success with this defense typically results in commitment to a mental health facility rather than prison.
Lack of Intent: First-degree murder charges typically require proving that the accused acted with premeditation and deliberation. Arguing that the killing was unintentional or done in the heat of passion may reduce the charge to a lesser degree of murder or manslaughter.
Alibi: In some cases, the state may incorrectly believe that the accused had a hand in a person’s murder. This may happen in cold or high-profile cases, or in cases where a spouse goes missing. In these instances, an attorney will seek to prove that the accused has sufficient alibi to disprove these charges.

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Additional Resources

Colorado Organization for Victim Assistance (COVA) – COVA offers support and advocacy services for crime victims, including families of murder victims. They provide resources on victims’ rights, financial compensation, and assistance in navigating the criminal justice system.

Parents of Murdered Children (POMC) – While not exclusive to Colorado, POMC has chapters and support groups that provide emotional support and advocacy for the families of murder victims. They offer resources to help families deal with their loss and work toward healing.

The Innocence Project – While the Innocence Project is a national organization, it works on cases in Colorado through its network of local legal professionals and law schools. The article focuses on exonerating individuals who have been wrongfully convicted through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustices.

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Hire a First-Degree Murder Defense Attorney in Denver, Colorado

Matthew Martin represents clients on murder charges throughout the state of Colorado, including the city of Denver in Denver County, and the surrounding areas in the Front Range region including: Brighton in Adams County. Centennial and Littleton in Arapahoe County, Castle Rock in Douglas County, Golden in Jefferson County, and Boulder and Longmont in Boulder County.

To request an initial consultation call (303) 725-0017.

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