Street racers terrorizing drivers on I-25 in Colorado

Street racers have to be aware of the danger they are creating, but apparently they are indifferent. They are also putting themselves at risk for something they’ve probably never thought of, a first degree murder charge if they should cause a fatal crash. Colorado has a statute that would seem to cover that:


The elements of the crime of murder in the first degree are:

  1. that the defendant,
  2. in the State of Colorado, at or about the date and place charged,
  3. under circumstances evidencing an attitude of universal malice manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life generally,
  4. knowingly,
  5. engaged in conduct which created a grave risk of death to a person or persons other than himself, and

6. thereby caused the death of another

This statute was used a few years ago to convict a driver of first degree murder in a road rage incident where his reckless pursuit of a car that had cut him off caused a fatal injury crash. It would seem straighforward to charge someone under this statute for causing death in a street racing crash.

A lawyer who remembers legal history from law school will recognize a blast from the past in that statute. At common law murder was neither a specific nor general intent crime. It was a malice crime, the product of “a malignant heart.” The term “universal malice” in the statute is a vestige of the common law. A law professor once told me that while the all the old common law writs and crimes are now dead and buried, they still rule us from their graves.

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