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Colorado man may face death penalty with DUI murder conviction

The legal definition of malice is wrongful intent. Malice may be present, even when a Colorado defendant has no plan to take another person's life. Severe charges are possible when a defendant knowingly engages in a dangerous activity, like drunk driving, that is indifferent to the safety of others.

A 40-year-old Colorado man is accused of causing the recent death of an Aurora high school senior in a DUI accident. Authorities said the repeat offender had at least two earlier DUI arrests, drove without a valid license and lived illegally in the U.S. A chemical test showed the driver's blood alcohol content level the night of the accident exceeded the state limit by four times.

Police reports said the intoxicated SUV driver ran an Aurora red light and crashed into the teen's car. The 17-year-old driver died, just weeks ahead of high school graduation. The SUV driver then reportedly tried to drive away from the fatal accident scene.

The defendant was charged with DUI for a third or subsequent offense, separate charges for DUI and reckless vehicular homicide and first-degree murder for "extreme indifference." Colorado statute 18:3-102 describes indifference to killing as "an attitude of universal malice" through conscious engagement of life-threatening behavior. First-degree murder is a class 1 felony, punishable by death or life imprisonment.

Vehicular homicide crimes, under state statute 18:3-106, are divided into alcohol-related and reckless driving categories. DUI homicide is a strict liability offense, which absolves prosecutors from having to establish the defendant's intent. DUI homicide, a class 3 felony, is a more serious charge than reckless homicide, a class 4 felony, although both carry serious possible consequences.

Colorado criminal defendants frequently are overwhelmed by the legal process. Defendants may not be aware of the severity of charges they face or understand their civil rights. An attorney informs and protects defendants, while creating a defense strategy to minimize legal damage.

Source: The Denver Post, "Suspected DUI driver charged with murder in Aurora teen's death" Kieran Nicholson and Zahira Torres, Mar. 31, 2014

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