New Colorado Bill May Reduce Felony Consequences For Unintended Murder

The consequences for felony murder in Colorado are about to change.

Senate Bill 21-124 is headed to the desk of Governor Jared Polis. If he signs it, life sentences will no longer be mandatory for felony murder starting September 15, 2021.

This would mark quite a departure from the old rules surrounding felony murder in the state. Here’s what you need to know about current felony murder rules in Colorado and how this bill will change them.

The Current Felony Murder Rules in Colorado

Under current law, a defendant can be charged with first-degree murder if someone dies during the commission of a dangerous felony, even if by accident. The charges stand whether the defendant fully committed or attempted to commit these “dangerous felonies”:

  • Kidnapping
  • Arson
  • Sexual Assault
  • Burglary
  • Robbery
  • Escape
  • Class 3 felony sexual assault on a child

What differentiates felony murder from other first-degree murder charges?

Primarily, the defendant’s intention. Though they didn’t set out to commit murder, it happened in the course of another felony.

To explain further, for most murders, the defendant intends to kill the victim. That intent can be premeditated, deliberate, or with malice. Felony murder, on the other hand, doesn’t require the intent to take the life of another, merely the intent to commit one of the aforementioned felonies.

Culpability factors into discernment of intent in these cases. In many murder cases, the court rules the defendant “at fault” for the death.

Felony murder looks a bit different, though. All parties who attempted to commit or committed the felony garner culpability for the murder.

In essence, here’s how it plays out. If a team commits armed robbery of a corner store, and a cashier dies in the process, several people could be held accountable: the person who held up the store, the look-out, the getaway car driver, and any other accomplice.

Current Punishments for Felony Murder in CO

Colorado deems felony murder a Class 1 felony. That means, if convicted, you could face life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Minors can also be prosecuted for first-degree felony murder, but they will not face the same penalties as an adult.

How Felony Murder Will Change Under the New Law

When this signed bill goes into effect, felony murder will no longer count as a first-degree murder offense. It will become a second-degree murder offense.

While still very serious, it will no longer lead to a life sentence in prison without parole. Instead, the maximum sentence would amount to 48 years in prison.

Colorado Springs Murder Defense Attorney

It’s important to note that this new law will not take retroactive effect. That means any cases decided before September 15, 2021 remain under previous laws and penalties.

Laws change constantly, which is why it’s important to understand your rights and the laws in your state. Seek professional counsel to mount the best defense possible in the court of law if you ever find yourself accused of a crime.


About the Author:

Andrew Bryant is a well-respected Colorado Springs criminal attorney who has been practicing in the area for years. A Colorado native, he returned to the home he loves after graduating from the University of Kentucky College of Law. Now, he uses the knowledge he gained as an El Paso County District Attorney to fight tirelessly for his clients’ rights. He is AV-Preeminent rated, has been recognized for his work by The National Trial Lawyers, and has been named to Best of the Springs lists by The Gazette for years.