ARS § 13-1103 is the Arizona statute that defines the crime of manslaughter. People commit this offense when they cause the death of someone else but the killing falls short of constituting a murder. A violation of this law is a Class 2 felony punishable by a prison sentence of up to ten years.
The language of ARS § 13-1103 sets forth five specific ways a person can commit the crime of manslaughter. These include:
- recklessly causing the death of another person,
- intentionally or knowingly killing a person in the heat of passion or upon a sudden quarrel,
- intentionally helping another person commit suicide,
- 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, and
- knowingly or recklessly causing the death of an unborn child by any physical injury to the mother.
- killing a person while recklessly driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI).
- causing the death of a spouse after catching him cheating with another woman.
- intentionally helping a loved one commit suicide.
Criminal defense attorneys draw upon several legal strategies to help defendants challenge manslaughter charges. Some of these include showing that defendants:
- acted in self-defense,
- did not act recklessly, and/or
- did not act with a criminal state of mind.
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 “manslaughter”?
The laws of the State of Arizona say that a person commits manslaughter in one of five ways. These are by:
- recklessly causing the death of another person,i
- intentionally or knowingly killing a person upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion resulting from adequate provocation by the victim,ii
- intentionally helping a person commit suicide,iii
- 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 which a reasonable person in his situation would have been unable to resist, and
- knowingly or recklessly causing the death of an unborn child by any physical injury to the mother.iv
Arizona’s criminal laws say that people act recklessly when aware of and consciously disregard a substantial and unjustifiable risk.v
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.vi
Note that when a person kills another by driving recklessly, the offense is often called vehicular manslaughter.
Note, too, that some states differentiate between voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter. Arizona law, however, does not make this distinction. Rather, manslaughter is often compared with negligent homicide, per ARS 13-1102.
2. Are there defenses to ARS 13-1103?
People accused of manslaughter can challenge the accusation with a legal defense/disclaimer. Three common defenses include a defendant showing that he/she:
- acted in self-defense.
- did not act recklessly.
- did not act with a criminal state of mind.
Defendants can assert that they committed manslaughter because they were acting in self-defense. The defense is appropriate so long as:
- the accused reasonably believed that he/she was in imminent danger of physical harm, and
- deadly force was necessary to stop the danger.
2.2 No reckless act
Defendants often get charged with manslaughter when prosecutors allege that they killed someone by means of a reckless act. Further, “recklessness” carries a specific legal definition. This means it is always a defense for an accused to show that he/she did not act recklessly.
2.3 No criminal state of mind
People are typically only guilty of manslaughter if they act with some criminal state of mind, like:
- knowingly, or
Therefore, a defense is for an accused to show that he/she did not act in one of these ways.
3. What are the penalties?
Arizona law treats manslaughter as a serious and dangerous felony.
A violation of ARS 13-1103 is a Class 2 felony punishable by up to 10 years in state prison. Depending on the facts of the case, a defendant could even face a prison term of up to 21 years.
4. Are there related offenses?
There are three crimes related to manslaughter. These are:
- negligent homicide – ARS 13-1102,
- first-degree murder – ARS 13-1105, and
- second-degree murder – ARS 13-1104.
4.1 Negligent homicide – ARS 13-1102
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.
While manslaughter typically punishes a death caused by recklessness, this statute criminalizes a death caused by criminal negligence.
“Criminal negligence” is a less severe act when compared to a reckless act. It occurs when a person fails to recognize the substantial and unjustifiable risk that his/her conduct will cause the death of another person.vii
4.2 First degree murder – ARS 13-1105
ARS 13-1105 is the Arizona statute that says a person commits the crime of first-degree murder when he/she takes the life of another through a premeditated and intentional act.
Unlike manslaughter, first-degree murder is a Class 1 felony punishable by death or life imprisonment.
4.3 Second degree murder – ARS 13-1104
Under ARS 13-1104, a person commits second-degree murder by:
- intentionally causing the death of another person, including an unborn child,
- committing an act knowing that it will cause death or serious physical injury, or
- recklessly engaging in conduct that creates a grave risk of death and thereby causes the death of another person.
As with manslaughter, a person is guilty under this statute if he/she intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly kills another person.
- See, for example, State v. Brown, 210 Ariz. 534 (2006).
- See, for example, State v. Dunbar, 465 P.3d 527 (2020).
- See, for example, State v. Khoshbin, 166 Ariz. 570 (1990).
- A.R.S. 13-1103. The language of the code section reads as follows:A. A person commits manslaughter by doing any of the following:
1. Recklessly causing the death of another person.
2. Committing second degree murder as prescribed in section 13-1104, subsection A on a sudden quarrel or heat of passion resulting from adequate provocation by the victim.
3. Intentionally providing the physical means that another person uses to die by suicide, with the knowledge that the person intends to die by suicide.
4. Committing second degree murder as prescribed in section 13-1104, subsection A, paragraph 3, while being coerced to do so by the use or threatened immediate use of unlawful deadly physical force on the person or a third person that a reasonable person in his situation would have been unable to resist.
5. Knowingly or recklessly causing the death of an unborn child by any physical injury to the mother.
B. A person who is at least eighteen years of age commits manslaughter by intentionally providing advice or encouragement that a minor uses to die by suicide with the knowledge that the minor intends to die by suicide.
C. An offense under subsection A, paragraph 5 of this section applies to an unborn child in the womb at any stage of its development. A person shall not be prosecuted under subsection A, paragraph 5 of this section if any of the following applies:
1. The person was performing an abortion for which the consent of the pregnant woman, or a person authorized by law to act on the pregnant woman’s behalf, has been obtained or for which the consent was implied or authorized by law.
2. The person was performing medical treatment on the pregnant woman or the pregnant woman’s unborn child.
3. The person was the unborn child’s mother.
D. Manslaughter is a class 2 felony.
- 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).
- ARS 13-105(10)(C).
- Bashir v. Pineda, 226 Ariz. 351 (2011). See also State v. Neal, 143 Ariz. 93 (1984).