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Murder » What is "heat of passion" in Colorado murder and manslaughter cases?
A “heat of passion” killing is one where a person kills another in a fit of unpremeditated rage that a reasonable person would feel under the circumstances. “Heat of passion” killings used to be categorized as a kind of Colorado manslaughter crime. But now it is classified as a type of second-degree murder crime in Colorado.
The classic example of a “heat of passion” killing is a person unwittingly walking in on his/her spouse in bed with another person, being overcome by emotion, and instantly killing them. There is no “cooling off” period between being provoked and inflicting the fatal blows. If there were a cooling off period, then the killing would become premeditated and calculated instead of merely fueled by unbridled passion.
“Heat of passion” killings are a type of second-degree murder in Colorado. Formerly, “heat of passion” killings were a kind of manslaughter, which is punished less harshly than murder. However, “heat of passion” killings do carry lesser penalties than other types of second-degree murders:
Second-degree murder is typically classified as a class 2 felony, carrying a sentencing range of
Meanwhile, killings done in the heat of passion are only a class 3 felony, carrying a sentencing range of:
Therefore, defendants convicted of second-degree murder who can show they killed in the “heat of passion” will get a lower sentence than those who had a sufficient cooling off period before the killing. In short, killing in the “heat of passion” is a mitigating factor in second-degree murder sentencings.
The specific facts of each case determine which defense strategies would be most efficacious. Depending on the circumstances, defendants charged with second-degree murder in Colorado may try to fight the charges with either of the following arguments:
Note that it may be possible to plea bargain murder charges down to a manslaughter charge or criminally negligent homicide.
1) A person commits the crime of murder in the second degree if the person knowingly causes the death of a person.
(2) Diminished responsibility due to self-induced intoxication is not a defense to murder in the second degree.
(a) Except as otherwise provided in paragraph (b) of this subsection (3), murder in the second degree is a class 2 felony.
(b) Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph (a) of this subsection (3), murder in the second degree is a class 3 felony where the act causing the death was performed upon a sudden heat of passion, caused by a serious and highly provoking act of the intended victim, affecting the defendant sufficiently to excite an irresistible passion in a reasonable person; but, if between the provocation and the killing there is an interval sufficient for the voice of reason and humanity to be heard, the killing is a class 2 felony.
(4) A defendant convicted pursuant to subsection (1) of this section shall be sentenced by the court in accordance with the provisions of section 18-1.3-406 .
Michael Becker has over a quarter-century's worth of experience as an attorney and more than 100 trials under his belt. He is a sought-after legal commentator and is licensed to practice law in Colorado, Nevada, California, and Florida.
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