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Homicide Laws

Homicide is the legal or illegal killing of an individual by another through an action or inaction. Arizona homicide laws are classified into manslaughter, first-degree murder, second-degree murder, and negligent homicide. These offenses have different elements and attract severe disabilities, including a possible death sentence. So, you need the help of a defense attorney whenever you learn of an impending arrest or charge for homicide. At the Phoenix Criminal Attorney, we understand these homicide types and have outlined the statutes that define them, possible penalties, and defenses.

Importance of Understanding the Various Types of Homicide Offenses

The four categories of homicide in Arizona must be understood because a different law governs each, has particular characteristics, and is subject to distinct punishments. Understanding the difference between these offenses can help you make the right decisions about your legal representation and defense strategies when facing charges. Also, understanding homicide laws will help you comprehend the nuisances of these cases and be more informed about the criminal justice system in the state.

First-Degree Murder

The most severe type of homicide in Arizona is first-degree murder. According to ARS 13-1105, you commit this offense when you end someone’s life by planning or engaging in an intentional act. The crime is a class-one felony that attracts the death penalty or life incarceration when found guilty.

ARS 13-1105 outlines three primary ways to accomplish first-degree murder. You commit the crime when:

  • You take another party’s life, including a fetus, intentionally or deliberately. For instance, lying in wait in a bush close to your former spouse's house, then shooting them as they walk home in the The offense is murder in the first degree because it involved malice aforethought and was intentional.
  • You deliberately end the life of a police officer while on official duty. When, for example, you fire at and kill a law enforcement officer in a drive-by shooting, an arrest will attract murder in first-degree.
  • You commit a particular felony and end an individual's life while engaging in a felony offense or attempting to flee the crime scene. For example, you rob a bank and end an individual's life as you try to escape the scene.

For you to be guilty of this violation, the prosecutor must demonstrate premeditation. They do this by presenting evidence to show your actions were intentional or that you knew you were going to kill and that the plans or knowledge came long before the killing, showing you had sufficient time to reflect on your actions.

Arizona homicide statutes have a felony murder rule that sets forth the felony offenses that attract murder by first-degree counts. These felonies are:

  • Child abuse.
  • Sexual assault.
  • Marijuana offenses.
  • Child molestation.
  • Narcotics or drug crimes.
  • Dangerous drugs crime.
  • Sexual conduct involving a minor.
  • Assault.

It would help to understand that having motives or intentions to kill is not an element the prosecutor must prove in an Arizona murder offense. The prosecutor only needs to show the death resulted from committing a felony.

Also, all the participants in the felony will face murder charges if a homicide occurs, even if one of the perpetrators of the felony was not directly involved in the killing.

Possible Penalties

The worst crime you can commit in Arizona is murder in the first degree, as it attracts the harshest disabilities. When convicted of the offense, you risk life imprisonment in a state prison without parole or capital punishment, otherwise known as a death sentence.

1st-Degree Murder Defenses

Just because an ARS 13-1105 violation attracts capital punishment or life incarceration does not make your case helpless. At Phoenix Criminal Attorney, we can mount a solid legal defense to reduce the severity of the charges.

There are three primary defenses our attorneys will use. One asserts that you did not plan the killing or do it intentionally. Instead, it was an accident. For example, we can claim that you showed a friend how to use a loaded firearm, and it went off accidentally. Under these circumstances, there is no premeditation or malice aforethought.

Similarly, we can contend that you used reasonable and proportionate force to repel the threat because you had a reasonable belief that you or another party was about to be harmed by the victim. This action resulted in the victim's death.

Also, you can claim that the arresting officers coerced you into confessing to committing the crime. The law prohibits the police from using overbearing techniques to obtain confessions from suspects. If you can demonstrate you were coerced into confessing, the admission will be inadmissible as evidence, leaving the prosecutor with a weak case. Alternatively, the judge can drop the case.

2nd-Degree Murder

ARS 13-1104 outlines the second-worst form of homicide, murder in the second degree. As per the statute, taking a human being’s life through conduct that you know is likely to end their life is illegal. The act could be intentional or reckless, with an extreme disregard for human life. Nevertheless, unlike murder in the first degree, second-degree murder is devoid of malice aforethought or premeditation.

For the prosecutor to convict you for this violation, they must demonstrate the following:

  • You deliberately took the life of another human being, including a fetus, or because of your deliberate killing of a person, you end up killing an unborn baby or
  • While fully aware your conduct could lead to death or significant bodily harm, you took someone else’s life, including a fetus, or, due to the intentional killing of an individual, you ended up taking the life of a fetus or
  • In circumstances revealing extreme triviality to life, you participated in reckless conduct that puts another individual at serious risk of demise, thus taking the life of a person or a fetus.

Note that you will not face charges or conviction under this statute if the following is true:

  • You were performing an abortion with permission from a pregnant or expectant woman or a party with authority to act for the pregnant woman. Furthermore, you will not be charged with second-degree murder if the law implied consent or permitted the abortion.
  • You were performing a medical procedure on a pregnant woman or their unborn baby.
  • You are the unborn baby’s mother.

Instances that could attract 2nd-degree murder are:

  • Intentionally stabbing a pregnant woman, killing the unborn child and the mother.
  • Speeding down a street and knocking down a pedestrian, killing them on the spot.
  • Shooting an ex-spouse in the head with the intent to kill them.

You should note that you can be guilty of 2nd-degree murder when you engage in highly reckless conduct that causes another human being to lose their life. For this statute, acting recklessly means engaging in behavior you know creates an unjustifiable and significant danger of death or bodily harm.

Penalties for Murder in Second Degree

An ARS 11-1104 violation is a Class 1 felony that attracts a minimum prison sentence of ten years and, at most, twenty-five years of prison incarceration. The penalty can be increased to life imprisonment if you have previously been convicted of specific felonies.

Defenses for Murder In Second Degree

You or your homicide attorney can raise several defenses to contest the charges of murder in the second degree. One of the defenses is asserting that your actions were not intentional. You are only guilty under this section when you intentionally end someone’s life. Additionally, the court will convict you if you recklessly or knowingly caused someone’s demise. Therefore, you can defend the allegations by asserting that you did not intentionally, knowledgeably, or recklessly kill.

For instance, you try to transfer a gun from the table without knowing it is loaded, and it unintentionally goes off, killing a person. Under the circumstances, killing the person was unintentional, and you did not realize that removing the firearm from the table would result in someone else's demise. Additionally, you did not know the gun was loaded, which means your conduct was not extremely reckless; therefore, you are not guilty of violating this section.

Another defense for this violation is claiming the investigators or police violated your constitutional rights by arresting you without probable cause, undertaking an illegal search and seizure, or coercing a confession. This defense will help exclude some evidence against it, compelling the prosecutor to lower the charges to a lesser offense or dismiss the case.

Lastly, if you did not provoke an encounter with the victim, you can claim you were defending yourself or someone else, resulting in a loss of life.

Arizona Manslaughter

Per ARS 13-1103, manslaughter is the taking of a person’s life, but the killing fails to meet the murder threshold. The ARS 13-1103 language outlines five primary ways to accomplish manslaughter. These are:

  • Recklessly taking another human’s life.
  • Deliberately or knowingly taking an individual’s life in an abrupt heat of passion or quarrel.
  • Intentionally aiding an individual to commit suicide.
  • Deliberately end a person’s life while being pressured into committing the crime by the use or threatened use of a lethal. physical power on you or another party, to the extent you cannot resist the threats.
  • Recklessly or deliberately causing the demise of a fetus by inflicting bodily harm on the mother.

For purposes of this section, acting recklessly means engaging in an act when you know and consciously or intentionally disregard that it will cause significant or unjustifiable risk.

The risk must be taken so that its disregard establishes a gross deviance from a sober individual's typical conduct under the same circumstances.

If you kill a person while driving recklessly, you face vehicular manslaughter charges. Also, Arizona does not classify manslaughter as voluntary or involuntary. Instead, it compares the offense with negligent homicide.

Manslaughter is a Class 2 felony that attracts at least 120 months or, at most, 21 years of prison incarceration upon sentencing. It is a long time behind bars, so you must fight the charges tirelessly. The best way to enhance the likelihood of a fair outcome in the case is by retaining the services of a competent homicide attorney.

Your attorney will evaluate the case and develop appropriate defense strategies for reducing the charge to a less severe offense with more lenient penalties. Most manslaughter charges are based on reckless conduct. Therefore, in your defense, you can assert that your behavior was not reckless.

Another element the prosecutor demonstrates in manslaughter cases is that you had a criminal mind state by acting knowingly, recklessly, or deliberately. So, in your defense, you can assert that your conduct lacked intent, knowledge, or recklessness.

Negligent Homicide

ARS 13-1102 defines negligent homicide as causing someone’s demise, including a fetus, through criminal negligence. The language of this statute defines criminal negligence as an act where you, the defendant, ignore a significant and unwarranted risk that your behavior will cause loss of life. An excellent example of negligence is unleashing a Pitbull with an attack history that kills someone. Arizona homicide statutes assume that a sober or ordinary person would recognize the risk their action poses and fail to take part.

However, using a firearm or deadly weapon does not amount to criminal negligence. Criminally negligent conduct is not the same as reckless conduct. The law defines recklessness as knowing but intentionally disregarding a considerable and indefensible risk that a particular behavior will hurt another party. The risk must be substantial so that its disregard amounts to a gross deviation from a sober person's standard of care in the same situation.

Negligent Homicide Examples

An excellent example of negligent homicide is when you operate a motor vehicle while drunk or drugged and cause an accident, killing someone. In this situation, you will face vehicular negligent homicide charges. Besides, when you cause a person’s death under the following circumstances, you commit negligent homicide:

  • Texting while behind the wheel at top speed in a crowded street.
  • Shooting a lethal weapon in the air in a crowded place.
  • Leaving a minor unattended in the car on a hot day.
  • Swiping someone’s hand while they are holding a loaded firearm.

Another example of negligent homicide is when you argue with your spouse, retrieve a loaded firearm, and wave it at them. If the gun goes off and you kill your partner, you will face a negligent homicide count because you acted with criminal negligence.

Negligent Homicide Penalties

An ARS 13-1102 violation is a Class 4 felony, not a misdemeanor. A guilty verdict typically results in incarceration not exceeding 36 months. Additionally, the court can impose a financial court fine of, at most, $150,000.

Viable Defenses

Your homicide attorney can draw upon multiple legal defenses to help you challenge the negligent homicide charges.

The attorney can start by asserting that you lacked criminal negligence. You can claim that even if you acted recklessly or negligently, your conduct did not rise to the threshold of criminal negligence.

Besides, you can claim that even though criminal negligence exists in your case, it was not the direct or proximate cause of the victim's death. However, for the defense to hold in court, you must prove that someone else or another act was the cause of the homicide.

Lastly, you can argue that the police violated your constitutional rights by doing the following:

  • Not reciting your Miranda rights.
  • Disregarding the protocols provided by the law.
  • Coercing you into confessing to the crime.
  • Violating your 4th Amendment rights by obtaining evidence illegally.

You must consult an experienced homicide attorney when fighting negligent homicide counts to increase the chances of a fair outcome. A reputable attorney will answer all your questions in a no-obligation consultation. Do not be afraid to open up to the attorney because the attorney-client relationship protects your communication, and the attorney cannot divulge the information you share in the meeting without your permission.

Importance of Hiring a Homicide Attorney for Your Case

Hiring an attorney for your homicide case is a wise decision when you face homicide charges. At the Phoenix Criminal Attorney, we have the knowledge and skills to maneuver the complex justice system and protect your rights. We will evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your case, identify viable defenses based on the case’s unique circumstances, and advocate for a fair outcome. The outcome can include negotiating a charge reduction, presenting mitigating circumstances for more lenient penalties, or fighting in a trial to secure an acquittal.

Strategies for Building Solid Defenses

Each homicide offense has its own unique defense strategy. Therefore, your attorney must adopt a unique approach to the case by thoroughly investigating the case’s facts. The investigation involves reviewing police reports, cross-examining witnesses, and reviewing physical proof.

Also, the attorney will review the state’s evidence and identify weaknesses in the case, like police misconduct and unreliable testimony. Again, the defense attorney can come up with alternate explanations for the crime to justify your actions or convince the jury that the evidence presented by the prosecution does not meet the evidentiary standard of beyond moral certainty.

Find a Skilled Homicide Attorney Near Me

Familiarizing yourself with the various homicide types in Arizona, their penalties, and their defenses is essential, especially when you face these harsh charges. Enlisting the services of an experienced criminal law firm like the Phoenix Criminal Attorney helps navigate the justice system and build solid defenses for a favorable outcome in the homicide case. Contact us today at 602-551-8092 to schedule a meeting.

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