ARS 13-1104 is the Arizona statute that defines the crime of second-degree murder. People commit this offense when they kill another person intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly, but do so without premeditation (which is required for first-degree murder, per ARS 13-1105). Second-degree murder is a Class 1 felony punishable by a prison sentence of up to 25 years.
The language of ARS 13-1104 states that a person can commit second-degree murder in one of three ways. A person commits the offense if:
- the person intentionally causes the death of another person, including the death of an unborn child, OR
- knowing that the person’s conduct will cause death or serious physical injury, the person causes the death of another person or an unborn child, 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.
- Shooting a person in the chest with the intent to kill him.
- Driving a car over 100 mph down a neighborhood street and hitting a pedestrian and killing that person.
- Knowingly stabbing a pregnant woman and killing both the woman and her unborn child.
Criminal defense lawyers use several legal strategies to help clients contest a second-degree murder charge. Some of these include showing that:
- the accused did not intentionally cause a death,
- the accused acted in self-defense, and/or
- law enforcement violated one of the defendant’s constitutional rights.
A violation of ARS 13-1104 is a Class 1 felony offense punishable by prison time of between 10 and 25 years.
In this article, our Phoenix Arizona 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 “second-degree murder”?
A person in the State of Arizona is guilty of second-degree murder if:
- the person intentionally takes a human life, 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.i
Some definitions here are helpful:
- “intentionally” means that a person acts with the objective of killing another person,ii
- “knowingly” means that a person is aware that his/her act could result in the death of someone else,iii and
- “recklessly” means that a person engages in an act although he/she is aware that it creates a substantial and unjustifiable risk of serious harm or death.iv
Note that, for purposes of second-degree murder, 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.v
2. Are there defenses to a charge under ARS 13-1104?
Defendants, or their homicide attorneys, can raise a legal defense/disclaimer to challenge criminal charges under this statute. Three common defenses include accused people showing that:
- they did not act intentionally.
- they acted in self-defense.
- the police violated one of their civil rights.
2.1 No intentional act
People are only guilty of this crime if they killed another with the intent to do so. Similarly, people are only guilty if they knowingly or recklessly caused a death. A defense, then, is for an accused to show that he/she did not kill someone intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly.
Consider, for example, the scenario where a person goes to move a handgun from a table and it accidentally fires and kills someone in the room. Here, the person did not commit the killing with an intent to do so, or with the knowledge that moving the gun would cause a death. Further, it is unlikely that the person acted in a reckless manner, especially if he/she did not believe the gun was loaded. The person, therefore, is not guilty of second-degree murder.
People can try to contest homicide charges by showing that they killed another person in self-defense. Defendants can raise this defense provided that:
- a reasonable person would have believed that the defendant was in imminent danger of physical harm, and
- force was necessary to stop the danger.
Note that this defense is not available to those who are at fault for provoking an encounter.vi
2.3 Violation of a constitutional right
Defendants can always try to contest charges of violent crimes by showing that law enforcement violated one of their constitutional rights. Maybe, for example, the police:
- conducted an unlawful search or seizure,
- stopped or arrested the defendant without probable cause, or
- coerced a confession.
In these situations, a defendant can use the violation to try and exclude certain evidence from the case or get the case dropped in its entirety.
3. What are the penalties?
Second-degree murder is a Class 1 felony punishable by custody in state prison.vii
The minimum prison sentence for the offense is 10 years. The maximum sentence is 25 years.viii
People convicted of this crime can receive life imprisonment if they have certain felonies on their criminal records.ix
4. Are there related crimes?
There are three crimes related to second-degree murder. These are:
- first-degree murder – ARS 13-1105,
- manslaughter – ARS 13-1103, and
- negligent homicide – ARS 13-1102.
4.1 First degree murder – ARS 13-1105
Under ARS 13-1105, people are typically guilty of first-degree murder charges if they take another person’s life by means of a premeditated and intentional act.
The main difference between first-degree murder and second-degree murder is premeditation. While it is an element of the former crime, it is not for the latter.x
A conviction under this statute results in either:
- life imprisonment, or
- the death penalty.
4.2 Manslaughter – ARS 13-1103
Per ARS 13-1103, manslaughter is when people cause the death of another person, but the killing does not amount to murder.
For example, a prosecutor can bring manslaughter charges if someone kills another either:
- unintentionally, or
- in the heat of passion (that is, in a sudden quarrel or in the spur of the moment).
While second-degree murder is a Class 1 felony, manslaughter is a Class 2 felony.
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 second-degree murder, negligent homicide does not require that a person act intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly. The focus is on whether a defendant acted with criminal negligence.
“Criminal negligence” means that a person acts while failing to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the act will result in the death or serious injury of someone.xi
For additional help…
If you or a loved one is facing a murder charge, we invite you to contact our law firm at the Shouse Law Group. Our Phoenix homicide attorneys provide both a free consultation and legal advice you can trust.
- Arizona Revised Statutes 13-1104A. See also State v. Valentini, 231 Ariz. 579 (2013); and, State v. Gurrola, 219 Ariz. 438 (2008).
- A.R.S. 13-105(10)(a).
- ARS 13-105(10)(b).
- ARS 13-105(10)(c).
- State v. Woodall, 155 Ariz. 1 (1987).
- State v. Lujan, 136 Ariz. 102 (1983).
- ARS 13-1104C.
- ARS 13-710.
- ARS 13-706.
- State v. Thompson, 204 Ariz. 471 (2003).
- ARS 13-105(10)(d).