Demographics, Trends, and Disparities in Colorado Felony Murder Cases: A Statistical Portrait Journal Article uri icon



  • Between 1990 and 2021, for adult offenders, Colorado punished felony murder with a mandatory minimum sentence of life without parole. Felony murder was classified as a class 1 felony, along with other theories of first-degree murder, such as after-deliberation and extreme indifference murder, as well as first-degree kidnapping, until Governor Jared Polis signed Senate Bill 124, effective September 15, 2021, reclassifying the offense to a class 2 felony. As a result, felony murder is now punishable by a sentence of 16-48 years. The purpose of this study is to provide a statistical portrait of people who have been convicted of felony murder between 1990 and 2021. Data were acquired through open records requests from the Colorado Department of Corrections (“CDOC”) and the State Court Administrator’s Office (“SCAO”), along with public data from the Colorado State Demography Office. This study’s primary unit of analysis is a criminal case, meaning a criminal case identifiable by a single case number in which a person was found guilty. With respect to felony murder, a felony murder case means one with one or more felony murder convictions where no other theory of first-degree murder was proven with respect to that or those homicide(s). A series of analyses enumerating felony murder cases and incarceration and comparing them to various reference groups produced the following observations: 1.Sentences were imposed in 196 felony murder cases and for 215 felony murder convictions between 2000 and 2021 (per data from SCAO, which provides aggregate judicial records from 2000 onwards). 2.Felony murder constitutes a non-trivial share of the 877 cases (22%) and 1,102 convictions (20%) for class 1 felonies found in judicial records between 2000 and 2021. 3.Matching judicial (SCAO) records with corrections (CDOC) data, there are 176 people in the current CDOC population who were sentenced for a single-theory felony murder conviction between 2000 and 2021, including 16 juveniles. 4.Over half (53%) of felony murder cases sentenced between 2000 and 2021 involved defendants who were younger than age 26 at the time of offense, compared to 42% of cases where sentences for other class 1 felonies were imposed and 46% of people presently incarcerated for other class 1 felonies. 5.There were no differences between men and women in the likelihood of felony murder conviction or incarceration, as compared to their rate of conviction and incarceration for other class 1 felonies. 6.Among the current CDOC population, Black people compose 35% of those who were sentenced for at least one single-theory FM from 2000 to 2021, followed by White (33%) and Hispanic (28%) people.7.Among those incarcerated for Class 1 felonies, Black people were 43% more likely than White people to be convicted of and presently incarcerated for felony murder. 8.No other statistically significant racial/ethnic disparities in felony murder conviction and incarceration rates were observed.9.There was no temporal trend in felony murder cases observed between 2000 and 2021. 10.There were some geographic differences across judicial districts in felony murder convictions and incarcerations, which were mostly explained by case characteristics, such as the race and age of the defendant.The results support a conclusion that people convicted of felony murder constitute a distinctive class of prisoners owing to the reclassification of the offense and demographic disparities which mark that group, particularly around age and race.

publication date

  • August 3, 2023

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Date in CU Experts

  • August 16, 2023 6:48 AM

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  • Pyrooz D

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  • 1

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