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Can You Be Charged with Murder for Self-Defense

You have a right to defend yourself or another person in Colorado. In some situations, the right to protect yourself is absolute. However, some situations could arise where the prosecutor does not believe you had the right to use deadly force in self-defense—and if that happens, you could face a murder charge. 

Suppose you killed another person while defending your life or the life of another from a dangerous attack but got charged with murder. You would need to arm yourself with a criminal defense lawyer willing to fight for you. In Denver and across Colorado, Gerash Steiner Blanton, P.C. is the law firm you can trust to fight aggressively to protect your rights. With several decades of experience litigating complex, serious cases, Gerah Steiner Blanton understands what it takes to argue self-defense successfully. Contact us today.

What Should You Do If You Use Deadly Force in Self-Defense?

If you are ever in a situation where you have had to use deadly force on someone, the best thing you can do is ask for a lawyer as soon as possible afterward. You might feel compelled to explain what happened immediately. However, you are better off if you do not talk to the police. You can invoke your right to remain silent with the police and speak to a skilled and knowledgeable lawyer before making a statement. Having an experienced lawyer with you through every step of the investigative process can help you avoid making mistakes that could jeopardize your future.

Speaking with an attorney before talking to the police does not prevent you from claiming self-defense. Instead, asking for a lawyer shows that you understand the gravity of the situation and want to protect yourself from possible criminal prosecution. The police and prosecution cannot use your silence against you during the investigation or in court. If you already gave a statement to the police without asking for a lawyer first, it’s okay. A skilled criminal defense lawyer can still help protect you.

The Investigation—What to Expect

The police will likely start an investigation right away. Investigators will take the weapon you used to defend yourself, and they will probably send it to a forensic lab for testing.

The police will also talk to witnesses and look for surveillance footage of the incident. If the incident happened outside your home, they will likely scour nearby businesses or residences to see if anyone caught anything on tape. You do not have to turn over surveillance video if you have it, but the police are likely to get a search warrant for it. 

Once the police collect all the evidence, they will likely consult the local prosecutor’s office to determine if there is enough evidence of wrongdoing to charge you with a crime. 

Why Can You Be Charged with Murder for Self-Defense?

Self-defense is a full defense, meaning the jury should find you not guilty if you defended yourself according to Colorado law. If you do not follow the law, you could face murder, manslaughter, or criminally-negligent homicide charges.

Self-Defense Jury Instructions

Colorado Criminal Jury Instructions Section H12 (page 999) specifies what a jury may consider as evidence that a person was justified in using deadly force against another. A person can claim the use of deadly force when the actor has a reasonable belief that a lesser degree of force is insufficient to defend oneself or another person and:

  • The actor harbors a reasonable belief that he or another person is in imminent danger of being killed or suffering significant bodily injury; or
  • The person killed was about to use physical force against an occupant of a dwelling or business while committing a burglary; or
  • The person killed is committing a kidnapping, robbery, sexual assault, or another assault. 

Colorado’s general self-defense statute is sometimes called the Stand Your Ground Law

In a homicide trial, a judge can instruct the jury concerning self-defense if there is evidence any of the above circumstances existed at the time of the killing.

The judge will not give the jury instruction on self-defense when:

  • The accused provokes the use of unlawful force by the other person;
  • The accused is the first aggressor—in which case he cannot claim self-defense unless the accused completely withdraws from the engagement and communicates that withdrawal; 
  • Both parties engaged in mutual combat; or
  • The use of force occurred after discovering the victim’s sexual identity, including when the victim made advances toward the accused.

A judge has no authority to give a jury instruction if these circumstances exist at trial. However, the judge must allow the accused to argue self-defense if the accused presents any evidence the killing occurred in self-defense. In that instance, the judge can instruct the jury that the jury can reduce a murder charge to a lesser-included offense like manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide. 

Colorado’s Make My Day Law

The Colorado general assembly believes that Colorado citizens have an absolute right to feel safe in their homes. Colorado Revised Statutes § 18-1-704.5 is the Make My Day law. The law grants immunity from prosecution and civil liability if the occupant of the dwelling uses physical force, including deadly force, against someone who unlawfully enters a home and intends to commit a crime against a person or property. This section applies when the occupant of the dwelling reasonably believes that the person is committing or will commit a crime other than unlawful entry, and the occupant believes the intruder might use some physical force. 

Under the Make My Day law, the prosecutor cannot bring criminal charges against you if you acted as per the statute. However, you are not entitled to use deadly force to protect a building from an unlawful trespass unless it is in response to a person’s attempt to commit first-degree arson.

Award-Winning Criminal Defense Lawyers Willing to Fight for You

Call on the award-winning criminal defense lawyers from Gerash Steiner Blanton, P.C. today for help with your self-defense claim. They are prepared to fight for you and protect your rights and freedom. We make a difference in the lives of our clients because we put them first. We keep our caseload small so that we can devote as much time as needed to your case. Contact us right now to learn more.

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