Colorado "Vehicular Homicide" laws (explained by a Denver defense lawyer)
You commit Colorado vehicular homicide in violation of Colorado Revised Statutes 18-3-106, C.R.S. when:
- You drive in a reckless manner OR while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, and
- Your driving is the proximate cause of the death of another person.
Penalties for Colorado vehicular homicide
If you drove recklessly and killed someone in Colorado, vehicular homicide is a class 4 felony in Colorado. Penalties for Colorado reckless vehicular homicide can include:
- 2-6 years in a Colorado prison, and/or
- a fine of $2,000-$500,000.
But if you were driving under the influence and killed someone, then vehicular homicide is a more serious class 3 felony in Colorado -- even if you were not driving recklessly. Consequences of Colorado DUI vehicular homicide can include:
- 4-12 years in a Colorado prison, and/or
- a fine of $3,000-$750,000.
How do I defend against Colorado vehicular homicide charges?
When someone dies in a car accident, people want someone to blame. But often an accident is just that -- an accident.
The Colorado DUI defense lawyers at the Colorado Legal Defense Group have years of experience defending DUI and reckless driving charges. We know how the police and prosecutor put together their cases. We understand how they can stack the deck against you.
If you have been charged with vehicular homicide in Colorado, we invite you to contact our caring Denver DUI attorneys for a free consultation.
In the meantime, to help you better understand vehicular homicide in Colorado, our top Colorado criminal defense lawyers discuss the following, below:
- 1. What is vehicular homicide in Colorado?
- 1.1. What constitutes reckless driving?
- 1.2. The definition of "proximate cause"
- 1.3. The definition of "under the influence"
- 2. Penalties for Colorado vehicular homicide
- 3. Defenses to vehicular homicide
To prove you guilty of vehicular homicide in Colorado, the prosecutor must show that:
- You drove recklessly OR you drove while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, and
- Your driving was the proximate cause of another person's death.
Under Colorado law, you act recklessly in violation of 18-3-106, C.R.S. when:
- you consciously disregard a substantial and unjustifiable risk,
- that a result will occur or that a circumstance exists.1
In other words, you drive recklessly when you consciously disregard the risk your driving creates. If you simply fail to perceive a risk that you should have, you are not guilty of vehicular homicide -- though you may be guilty of the slightly less serious felony of criminally negligent homicide under 18-3-105, C.R.S.2
You are the proximate cause of someone's death if the death is a natural and probable consequence of your misconduct.3
- While driving recklessly, you hit a pedestrian at high speed and severely injure her. On the way to the hospital, she dies of her injuries. Even though she did not die right away, your driving was the proximate cause of her death.
But... if death results from an intervening event and not directly from what you did, you are not legally responsible as long as:
- The intervening event was completely independent of the accident,
- The intervening event was unforeseeable,
- You did not participate in the intervening event, and
- If not for the intervening event, the person would not have died.
- While driving recklessly, you hit a pedestrian and break her leg. She is expected to fully recover. But while she is in the hospital having a cast put on, she contracts a Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infection that she eventually dies from. Since she would not have died but for the infection, the infection was an independent intervening event. Note, however, that depending on the severity of the injuries, you might still be charged with vehicular assault under 18-3-205, C.R.S. or reckless driving under 42-4-1401, C.R.S.4
In Colorado, you drive under the influence when:
- as a result of alcohol and/or drugs,
- you are substantially incapable, mentally and/or physically,
- of exercising clear judgment, sufficient physical control, or due care in the safe operation of a vehicle.5
Often, this will be based on evidence of:
- your statements and/or driving pattern,
- witness accounts of the accident and the preceding hours, and
- whether there are alcohol, drugs and/or drug paraphernalia in your car.
However, it is a permissible inference – even without other evidence – that you drove under the influence if:
- Your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) was .08% or higher (DUI per se),6 or
- Your blood contained five nanograms or more per milliliter of delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).7 THC is the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
It is not a defense to vehicular homicide charges (or any driving offenses for that matter) that the drugs that you took were prescription or over-the-counter. If a drug you took or a substance you inhaled negatively affected your driving, you can be held responsible – no matter how seemingly innocuous the substance. This includes marijuana -- even when it's prescribed for a legitimate medical condition.
When you drive in Colorado, you give your "express consent" to a chemical test to measure your BAC if you are arrested on suspicion of DUI. You will usually be offered the choice of a DUI breath test or DUI blood test. However, if the officer reasonably suspects that drugs caused or contributed to the accident, you can be required to take a blood, urine or saliva test instead of or in addition to a breath test.
If you refuse to take a chemical test, your license will automatically be suspended for one year. More importantly, your refusal will also be admissible as evidence of guilt should your case go to trial.
You should be aware that if you refuse to take a DUI chemical test after an arrest for Colorado vehicular homicide, your blood can be taken against your will. Unless the officer did not have probable cause to arrest you, those results will be admissible against you in any subsequent prosecution.8
If you kill someone by driving in a reckless manner in Colorado, it is a class 4 felony. Consequences can include:
- 2-6 years in Colorado prison, plus mandatory parole for 3 years, and/or
- a fine of $2,000-$500,000.9
If you kill someone when you drive under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs in Colorado, it is a class 3 felony. Consequences of Colorado DUI vehicular homicide can include:
- 4-12 years in Colorado prison, plus mandatory parole for 5 years, and/or
- a fine of $3,000-$750,000.10
Vehicular homicide charges are brought only when someone has died. As a result, these charges are vigorously prosecuted in Colorado. Defending against them is highly dependent on the facts of your case.
But some of the most common defenses to Colorado vehicular homicide charges include:
- You weren't the driver
It may seem obvious, but if you didn't drive, you didn't commit vehicular homicide. The “no driving” defense can be effective when the police find you at the scene of the accident but you are not behind the wheel. The burden to prove you were the driver is on the prosecution. This is not always as easy as it sounds, especially when there were no witnesses to the accident.
- You didn't drive in a reckless manner
The prosecutor must prove that you consciously disregarded a substantial and unjustifiable risk when you drove. Because the evidence of this is often circumstantial, it can be hard for the prosecutor to prove.
- You weren't under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs
Unlike DUI that does not cause death or injury, there is no strict “legal limit” for alcohol in a Colorado vehicular homicide case. The prosecutor must prove that you were actually unable to safely drive.
If your BAC is .08% or higher, it is strong evidence that you were under the influence (even if there is no other evidence), but it is not conclusive. A skilled Colorado DUI attorney can often present evidence that casts reasonable doubt on this conclusion. And if your BAC was less than .08%, there must be additional evidence to show that you were actually too inebriated to drive safely.
We work with the best DUI expert witnesses available to explain to the jury that the accident was just that – an accident. If the prosecutor can't prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you were DUI or you drove recklessly, you aren't guilty of vehicular homicide.
Often people think that if their DUI chemical test showed a BAC of .08% or higher, the prosecution has an open-and-shut case. But DUI chemical tests are prone to a variety of errors. We know how to look for them. And when we find them, we know how to explain the science of DUI testing in terms a jury can understand.
- The officer failed to advise you of your rights
Before the police can arrest you or ask you to submit to a DUI test, they must advise you of your rights. If you weren't advised of your rights as required by law, your arrest may not be legal. And if your arrest wasn't legal, then any evidence discovered as a result is inadmissible. This includes DUI test results, anything found in your car, and any statements you made to the police after you were arrested.
- The police violated your rights
The police do their best, but sometimes in their eagerness to hold someone responsible for a deadly accident they cut corners. Ways your rights can be trampled include coerced confessions, intimidation, planted evidence and illegal searches. If the police violated your rights, it can be a powerful chip in negotiating a plea bargain. Sometimes, we can even get the case dismissed.
Call us for help…
If you or someone you know has been charged with vehicular homicide under 18-3-106, C.R.S., we invite you to contact us for a free consultation.
Our Colorado DUI lawyers represent clients accused throughout the state of:
- Colorado vehicular homicide,
- Colorado vehicular assault,
- Colorado criminally negligent homicide,
- Colorado reckless driving, and/or
- DUI, DUI per se, DWAI or other Colorado drunk or drugged driving offenses.
Colorado vehicular homicide cases are seldom slam dunks for the prosecution. With a proactive defense, an experienced Colorado criminal attorney can often get the charges knocked down to reckless or careless driving -- or even dismissed altogether. And if necessary, we are not afraid to take your case to trial in front of a jury.
To discuss your case confidentially with one of our open-minded Colorado criminal defense lawyers, use the form on this page, or call our Denver home office, conveniently located at:
Colorado Legal Defense Group
1400 16th Street ste. 400
16 Market Square
Denver CO 80202
- 18–1–501 (8), C.R.S. See also, People v. Scarlett (1998) 985 P.2d 36, rehearing denied, certiorari denied.
- See People v. Bettis (1979) 602 P.2d 877, 43 Colo.App. 104 (volunteer fireman responding to an emergency call found guilty of criminally negligent homicide after his car struck and killed bicyclist).
- See Hamrick v. People (1981) 624 P.2d 1320.
- See People v. Calvaresi (1975) 188 Colo. 277, 534 P.2d 316.
- 18-3-106 (1)(a)(IV), C.R.S.
- 18-3-106 (2)(c), C.R.S.
- 18-3-106 (2)(d), C.R.S.
- 42-4-1301(6)(e), C.R.S.
- 18-1.3-401, C.R.S., sections (1)(a)(III)(A) and (1)(a)(V)(A).