“Homicide” refers to the killing of one person by another, either lawfully or unlawfully, and by some act or failure to act. The term homicide is different from the term murder. Under Arizona law, there are four instances in which a person can be charged with a crime for unlawful homicide. These include when a killing results in:
- first-degree murder, per ARS 13-1105,
- second-degree murder, per ARS 13-1104,
- manslaughter, per ARS 13-1103, and
- negligent homicide, per ARS 13-1102.
All of the above crimes are felony offenses under Arizona’s criminal laws. Penalties include time in state prison and may even include:
- the death penalty, and
- life imprisonment.
In this article, our Phoenix Arizona criminal defense lawyers will discuss the different charges that can result when a person unlawfully takes another human life.
1. How does Arizona law define “first-degree murder”?
Per ARS 13-1105, people in Arizona commit first-degree murder in one of three ways. These include if they:
- cause the death of another person, including the death of an unborn child, through a premeditated and intentional act,[i]
- commit a certain felony offense and then take another person’s life either while in the commission of the felony or while fleeing from it (this is known as Arizona’s felony murder rule),[ii] or
- intentionally cause the death of a law enforcement officer who is in the line of duty.[iii]
Note that in order to show premeditation, prosecutors must prove that a defendant acted with either the intention or the knowledge that he would kill, and that such intention or knowledge preceded the killing by a length of time to permit reflection.[iv]
As to the state’s felony murder rule, some of the felonies that can lead to a first-degree murder charge include:
- Child abuse under ARS 13-3623,
- Sexual conduct with a minor under ARS 13-1405,
- Molestation of a child under ARS 13-1410,
- Sexual assault under ARS 13-1406,
- Dangerous drugs offenses under ARS 13-3407,
- Marijuana offenses under ARS 13-3405, and
- Narcotics offenses under ARS 13-3408.
A first-degree murder conviction is a Class 1 felony.[v]
The crime is punishable by:
2. What is second-degree murder?
Under ARS 13-1104, a person in the State of Arizona is guilty of second-degree murder if:
- the person intentionally takes the life of a human being, including the life of an unborn child,
- the person causes the death of someone else, including an unborn child, while knowing that his/her conduct would cause death or serious physical injury to that person, or
- under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to human life, the person recklessly engages in conduct that creates a grave risk of death and thereby causes the death of another person or an unborn child.[vii]
Under Arizona’s homicide laws, the main difference between first-degree murder and second-degree murder is premeditation. While premeditation is an element of the former crime, it is not for the latter.
Note that, for purposes of second-degree murder cases, a person is guilty of recklessly causing the death of another if he/she engages in “extreme recklessness.” The facts of a particular case will decide whether a person did in fact engage in extreme recklessness.[viii]
Note, too, that “extreme recklessness” is a greater form of recklessness than is required under Arizona’s manslaughter laws.[ix]
Homicide charges are filed as Class 1 felonies under this statute, punishable by a prison sentence of between 10 and 25 years.
3. What about manslaughter?
According to ARS 13-1103, a person in Arizona commits manslaughter in one of five ways. These are by:
- recklessly causing the death of another person,[x]
- intentionally or knowingly killing a person upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion,[xi]
- intentionally helping a person commit suicide,[xii]
- intentionally or knowingly killing a person while being coerced to do so by the use or threatened use of deadly physical force upon such person or a third person, and
- knowingly or recklessly causing the death of an unborn child by any serious physical injury to the mother.[xiii]
Arizona’s criminal laws say that a person acts recklessly when they are aware of and consciously disregard a substantial and unjustifiable risk.[xiv]
The risk in question must be of such a nature and degree that a disregard of it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.[xv]
Note that when a person kills another by driving recklessly, the offense is often referred to as vehicular manslaughter or vehicular homicide.
A conviction of a manslaughter charge is a Class 2 felony.[xvi] The crime is punishable by up to 10 years in state prison.
4. What does negligent homicide mean?
Per ARS 13-1102, defendants are guilty of negligent homicide when:
- they cause the death of another person (including an unborn child), and
- they do so with criminal negligence.[xvii]
“Criminal negligence” is when a person fails to recognize the substantial and unjustifiable risk that his/her conduct will cause the death of another person.[xviii] Criminally negligent behavior is distinct from reckless behavior and is considered less severe.
Sometimes people commit this offense while driving a vehicle. For example, they can cause the death of another person while driving under the influence (DUI). When this occurs, the crime is often referred to as vehicular negligent homicide.
Criminal charges brought under this statute are filed as Class 4 felonies. A conviction is typically punishable by custody in state prison for up to three years.[xix]
For additional help…
For additional guidance or to discuss your case with a Phoenix homicide attorney, we invite you to contact our law firm at the Shouse Law Group. Our attorneys provide both free consultations and legal advice you can trust.
[i] See, for example, State v. Payne, 233 Ariz. 484 (2014).
[ii] See, for example, State v. Cabanas-Salgado, 208 Ariz. 195 (2003).
[iii] Arizona Revised Statutes 13-1105A. As to the death of a law enforcement officer, see Clark v. Arnold, 769 F.3d 711 (2014).
[iv] State v. Hunter, 136 Ariz. 45 (1983). See also State v. Ovante, 231 Ariz. 180 (2013).
[v] A.R.S. 13-1105D.
[vi] See same.
[vii] ARS 13-1104A. See also State v. Valentini, 231 Ariz. 579 (2013); and, State v. Gurrola, 219 Ariz. 438 (2008).
[viii] State v. Woodall, 155 Ariz. 1 (1987).
[ix] See same.
[x] See, for example, State v. Brown, 210 Ariz. 534 (2006).
[xi] See, for example, State v. Dunbar, 465 P.3d 527 (2020).
[xii] See, for example, State v. Khoshbin, 166 Ariz. 570 (1990).
[xiii] ARS 13-1103.
[xiv] State v. ex rel. Thomas v. Duncan, 216 Ariz. 260 (2007). With regards to the death of an unborn child, see State v. Hampton, 213 Ariz. 167 (2006).
[xv] ARS 13-105(10)(C).
[xvi] ARS 13-1103.
[xvii] ARS 13-1102.
[xviii] Bashir v. Pineda, 226 Ariz. 351 (2011). See also State v. Neal, 143 Ariz. 93 (1984).
[xix] ARS 13-801.