ARS § 13-1105 is the Arizona statute that defines the crime of first-degree murder. People typically commit this offense when they take another person’s life by means of a premeditated and intentional act. A violation of this law is a Class 1 felony punishable by death or life imprisonment.
The language of ARS 13-1105 sets forth three specific ways a person can be charged with first-degree murder. A person commits this offense if:
- intending or knowing that the person’s conduct will cause death, the person causes the death of another person, including an unborn child, with premeditation,
- the person commits a certain felony offense and takes a human life either in furtherance of the crime or in fleeing from it, or
- the person intentionally causes the death of a law enforcement officer who is in the line of duty.
- Hiding in the bushes outside an “ex’s” home, shooting the person as he walks towards the front door.
- Robbing a store and killing a person while trying to leave the crime scene.
- Shooting and killing a police officer during a high-speed chase.
Criminal defense lawyers draw upon several legal strategies to help defendants challenge first-degree murder charges. Some of these include showing that defendants:
- did not act intentionally or with premeditation,
- acted in self-defense, and/or
- gave a coerced confession.
A violation of ARS 13-1105 is a Class 1 felony (as opposed to a Class 1 misdemeanor). The crime is punishable by:
- a prison sentence for life, or
- the death penalty.
In this article, our criminal defense attorneys will discuss what the law is under this statute, defenses available if charged, the penalties for a conviction, and related Arizona homicide laws.
1. How does Arizona law define first-degree murder?
Under Arizona law, people commit first-degree murder in one of three ways. People can commit the crime if they:
- take the life of a human being 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
- intentionally cause the death of a law enforcement officer who is in the line of duty.iii
Arizona’s criminal laws say 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, the following felonies could lead to a first-degree murder charge if a life is taken:
- 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,
- Drive-by shooting under ARS 13-1209,
- Dangerous drugs offenses under ARS 13-3407,
- Unlawful flight from a pursuing law enforcement vehicle under ARS 28-622.01,
- Marijuana offenses under ARS 13-3405, and
- Narcotics offenses under ARS 13-3408.
Note that under Arizona law, motive is not an element of the crime of murder.v
2. Are there defenses to ARS 13-1105?
Defendants in murder cases can try to contest a charge with a legal defense. Three common murder defenses include accused people showing that:
- they did not act intentionally or with premeditation.
- they acted in self-defense.
- police coerced a confession.
2.1 No intentional act or premeditation
One form of first-degree murder is when a person kills another through a premeditated and intentional act. A defense is for an accused to show that he/she did not act with either of these aims or purposes. Perhaps, for example, someone was playing with a loaded gun and shot and killed another person by accident.
Defendants can try to challenge a murder charge by showing that they killed another person while acting in self-defense. Defendants can raise this defense provided that:
- they reasonably believed that they were in imminent danger of physical harm, and
- force was necessary to stop the danger.
2.3 Coerced confession
This defense applies when a defendant gets charged under ARS 13-1105 following a confession.
Arizona law says police may not use overbearing measures to coerce a confession. If they do, then:
- the judge may exclude the confession from evidence, or
- the case could get dropped altogether.
3. What are the penalties?
First-degree murder is a serious charge in the State of Arizona.
A first-degree murder conviction results in a felony charge (a Class 1 felony).vi
The crime is punishable by:
- a life sentence in state prison with no possibility of parole, or
- the death penalty.vii
4. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes related to first-degree murder. These are:
- second-degree murder – ARS-13-1104,
- manslaughter – ARS – 13-1103, and
- negligent homicide – ARS 13-1102.
4.1 Second degree murder – ARS 13-1104
Under ARS 13-1104, second-degree murder is when a person:
- intentionally causes the death of another person, including an unborn child,
- commits an act knowing that it will cause death or serious physical injury, or
- recklessly engages in conduct that creates a grave risk of death and thereby causes the death of another person.
Unlike with first-degree murder, a person does not have to act with any premeditation to be guilty of second-degree murder. Further, a violation of this statute is not a death sentence crime and is typically punishable by 10 to 16 years of prison time.
4.2 Manslaughter – ARS 13-1103
Per ARS 13-1103, manslaughter is when people cause the death of someone else but the killing falls short of constituting a murder.
Note that while this statute sets forth several ways in which a person can commit manslaughter, the crime generally falls short of murder because a person:
- kills another unintentionally, or
- takes another person’s life after being provoked (for example, in a “heat of passion).
4.3 Negligent homicide – ARS 13-1102
Per ARS 13-1102, negligent homicide is when:
- people cause the death of another person (including an unborn child), and
- they do so with criminal negligence.
Unlike first-degree murder, negligent homicide does not require that a person act intentionally, knowingly, or with premeditation. Rather, a person under this statute kills another by acting in defiance to a substantial risk that the act will result in serious harm.
- See, for example, State v. Payne, 233 Ariz. 484 (2014).
- See, for example, State v. Cabanas-Salgado, 208 Ariz. 195 (2003).
- A.R.S. 13-1105A. As to the death of a law enforcement officer, see Clark v. Arnold, 769 F.3d 711 (2014).
- State v. Hunter, 136 Ariz. 45 (1983). See also State v. Ovante, 231 Ariz. 180 (2013).
- State v. Hunter, 136 Ariz. 45 (1983).
- ARS 13-1105D.
- See same.