Defending Murder and Homicide Charges in Phoenix, AZ
Taking the life of another person is as serious as any criminal charge can be. If you have been arrested on a homicide charge, or if you believe you are the target of a homicide investigation, you need immediate help. At Feldman & Royle, our experienced criminal defense lawyers have a wealth of experience representing – and successfully defending – clients charged with homicide, including murder. Call us today for a free consultation.
What are the Differences Among Homicide Charges?
Homicide is not a separate crime in Arizona; rather, it is a shorthand way of describing a category of crimes involving the taking of a human life. Murder of different degrees, negligent homicide, and manslaughter sound alike, but there are major differences among these offenses, both in how they are defined, and in the classification and potential penalty applicable to each.
Defendant’s State of Mind
With respect to the definition of each of these crimes, the defendant’s state of mind, as alleged in the indictment, plays a major role in which offense is charged. Here are some of the variations in this area:
- Failing to recognize an unjustifiable and substantial risk that would cause the death of another person.
- Conscious disregard of an unjustifiable and substantial risk that would cause the death of another person.
- “Intent” means that your objective is to cause the particular result, or to engage in the specified conduct.
- Extreme indifference to human life.
State of mind is ordinarily inferred from existing facts. No one has the keys to anyone else’s mind, but the surrounding circumstances can be used to attempt to prove, or to disprove, one or another state of mind. In order to prove intent, for example, you need not have a witness who heard the defendant talk about what he was going to do.
Specific Homicide Crimes
The state of mind of the defendant is only one aspect in the determination of which homicide offense may be charged. Some of the murder and homicide charges are as follow:
- Negligent homicide. This requires proof that you caused the death of another person, and in doing so, you failed to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk of death. The risk in such a case must be such that failing to perceive it amounts to a gross deviation from reasonable conduct.
- A manslaughter charge requires proof that you caused the death of another person, and that you were aware of – yet consciously disregarded – a substantial and unjustifiable risk of death.
- Manslaughter by quarrel/heat of passion. The elements of this charge are that you caused the death of another person intentionally, or knowing your conduct would cause death or serious injury, or consciously disregarded a serious risk of death (extreme indifference to life), and you acted on a sudden quarrel or heat of passion which resulted from “adequate provocation” by the person who was killed.
- Manslaughter by aiding suicide. The proof in this case is simply that you assisted another person in committing suicide. The fact that the defendant is a physician or other health professional is not a defense.
- Second degree murder. A second degree murder charge requires proof that you either (a) intentionally killed another person, or (b) that the death was caused by your conduct which you knew would cause death or serious injury, or (c) that you engaged in reckless conduct creating a grave risk of death, thereby causing the death. The reckless conduct must demonstrate an extreme indifference to human life, and disregarding the risk must be a gross deviation from what a reasonable person would do in similar circumstances.
- First degree premeditated murder. The elements are that (a) you caused the death of another person, (b) you knew or intended that the death would result, and (c) you acted with premeditation. Premeditation means that after forming the intent to kill, or after knowing that you would kill another person, you reflected upon that decision before acting on it.
- First degree felony murder. Proof in a first degree felony murder consists of committing or attempting to commit one of a number of felonies, during which (or in immediate flight from the felony) you or another person caused the death of any person.
There are additional variations on these offenses, including manslaughter by coercion, murder of an unborn child, first degree murder of a police officer, and others. The variations may provide the basis for different (enhanced) penalties, even within a particular category of homicide.
The fact that each of the homicide offenses has its own definition, and its own elements, does not mean that there is no overlap among them. For example, in a DUI death case, the standard charge would be manslaughter. In some cases, however, the prosecutor will charge the defendant with second degree murder. The difference between the two involves the state of mind of the defendant: conscious disregard of a known risk (manslaughter), or reckless behavior exhibiting an extreme indifference to human life (second degree murder).
Sentencing in Homicide Cases
All homicide offenses are felonies in Arizona, and they all carry significant penalties. Nevertheless, the range varies widely. A conviction for negligent homicide, for example, could conceivably lead to a sentence of probation for a first offender where the crime did not involve the use of a deadly weapon or dangerous instrument. On the other hand, it could lead to a lengthy prison sentence. A first degree murder conviction could carry a sentence of life imprisonment, or even the death penalty.
Phoenix Homicide Lawyers
Whether the charge is murder, manslaughter, or negligent homicide, the stakes are enormous. You need to be sure that your attorney has the experience and skills to provide you with the best possible defense.
At Feldman & Royle, we have represented clients charge with various homicide offenses, including murder. We have obtained acquittals and not guilty verdicts, including cases involving self-defense and justification. Our experience in the homicide area is substantial, and our track record is well-known in the legal community. If you are facing a homicide charge, contact us to learn how our firm can protect you.
Call Feldman & Royle today at 602-899-8000 for a free, confidential consultation.