What is Vehicular Second Degree Murder?
Although second degree murder can be charged in a vehicular case, there is no separate vehicular murder charge in the Criminal Code. The essence of second degree murder in Arizona is causing the death of another person (a) intentionally, (b) knowing that the conduct will lead to serious injury or death, or (c) recklessly, where the circumstances indicate “extreme indifference” to life. It differs from first degree murder because second degree murder does not require premeditation, or other specific circumstances (for example, death resulting from specifically enumerated crimes (for example, sexual assault, arson, etc.), or the killing of a law enforcement officer). It differs from manslaughter because it requires more than mere recklessness, does not includes acts committed in the heat of passion, and does not involve being coerced into taking someone’s life.
Examples of Vehicular Second Degree Murder Charges
When a prosecutor decides to seek a vehicular second degree murder charge, it will usually fall into one of several categories. Here are some examples:
- While most DUI-related homicides are charged as manslaughter, there are cases in which the defendant will face a second degree murder charge. This may be the result of an extremely high BAC, prior DUI convictions, or DUI coupled with reckless driving (for example, traveling in the wrong direction on a highway ramp). In other cases, there may be little to distinguish a DUI second degree murder charge from a DUI manslaughter charge. The difference is that if murder is charged, the prosecutor must prove reckless behavior which shows extreme indifference to human life.
- If you are involved in a race with another car that takes place on a crowded street or well-traveled highway, and someone loses their life, the charge could be second degree murder.
- Aggressive or Reckless Driving. When the elements of aggressive driving or reckless driving are present, and it appears that the conduct was the result of road rage, a resulting death could be charged as second degree murder. The same charge can be expected if the driver was fleeing from a crime he just committed.
There are other examples, but in some cases, there is little to differentiate between a vehicular second degree murder charge and a vehicular manslaughter charge. A significant amount of prosecutorial discretion is often involved.
In a vehicular second degree murder charge, the prosecution will be required to prove each element of the offense. Here are some examples of how defenses to these charges can be raised:
- Example 1. The case against you includes an allegation that you were driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI). In this case, you can challenge the allegation in the same way that you would any other drunk driving or drugged driving offense. Breath test results, field sobriety tests, and other evidence of alleged intoxication are not infallible, and they can be successfully attacked in court.
- Example 2. You are accused of running a stop sign, and then colliding broadside with a vehicle in which one of the passengers is killed. The prosecutor charges you with second degree murder. The charge should, at the very least, be reduced to negligent homicide. Even if you did run a stop sign, the conduct was merely negligent; it was not reckless, nor did it evidence an extreme indifference to life.
- Example 3. You got behind the wheel of your car after drinking. You have an accident at an intersection, a passenger is killed, and you are charged with second degree murder. Witness testimony, bolstered by a reconstruction of the accident, shows that you were obeying all traffic laws, and that the other vehicle sped through a red light. You are not guilty of second degree murder – or, for that matter, manslaughter or negligent homicide – because your driving did not “cause” a fatality.
What we are attempting to demonstrate is that defenses to serous homicide charges do exist. The right lawyer will be able to identify and develop them.
Vehicular Second Degree Murder Lawyer in Phoenix, AZ
While there are many criminal defense attorneys in the greater Phoenix area, relatively few can state that they have experience defending homicide cases. At Feldman & Royle, we have defended clients charged with these offenses, including murder. If you are facing a vehicular second degree murder charge, our attorneys can help. Call today for a free consultation.