When someone faces a first degree murder pursuant to ARS 13-1105, they face the most serious crime possible. Under Arizona law, first degree is punishable by death. For those facing these most serious of homicide charges, having an experienced homicide attorney in their corner is a must.
First degree murder is the most serious type of homicide charge you can face. Under Arizona law, ARS 13-1105, a person can be charged with three different types of first degree murder:
Defined. The crime of premeditated murder requires the prosecution prove that:
“Premeditation” means that you intended to or knew you would kill another person and you thought about your decision to kill before the actual killing. It is this thought or reflection on your decision to kill, regardless of the amount of time involved, that raises a murder from second degree murder to first degree murder.
The passage of time is not, in and of itself, premeditation—there has to be actual reflection on your decision to kill. But the time you thought on your decision to kill does not have to be long to establish premeditation. And the amount of time between when you formed your intent to kill and the actual killing may be very short.
Premeditation is easier to prove when there is evidence such as:
Premeditation is harder to prove but can still be established in situations that escalate very quickly:
Depending on the evidence, the husband could be found guilty of Manslaughter because maybe he shot his wife as a result of a sudden quarrel of heat of passion.
But let’s say there is additional evidence from another family member who was there. In the minutes before shooting his wife, the husband grabbed her phone as she tried to call for help. Then as she tried to run out the door for help, he caught her and threw her down on the ground and locked the door behind them and fired two shots killing her.
These actions can be used to show that the husband intended to kill his wife and actually thought about it before shooting her. The husband could then be found guilty of Premeditated first degree murder.
Defined. Felony murder is committed when a person dies while you are committing another felony crime. The specific felony offenses that qualify you for Felony Murder are listed in the law in A.R.S. § 13-1105(A)(2). So, the crime of Felony Murder requires the prosecutor prove that:
2. In the course of and in furtherance of this crime or immediate flight from this crime, you or another person caused the death of any person.
You do not have to intend to cause the death of another person to be charged with Felony Murder. The death could be a complete accident, as long as the death occurred in the course of and in the furtherance of the other felony crime (or while immediately fleeing from the other felony crime).
If the shooter had intended to rob and kill the other man, then the prosecution could decide to charge him with both Felony Murder and Premeditated Murder.
Also, you do not even have to be the person who directly caused the death to be charged with Felony Murder. You are held responsible for any deaths that occur in the course of and in the furtherance of the other felony crime (or while immediately fleeing from the other felony crime).
Three men decide to rob a bank. Immediately after robbing the bank, they jump into their car and flee from the scene. Police chase after them and the robbers start shooting at the police car. The police fire back and an officer shoots and kills one of the bank robbers. The other two bank robbers can be charged with Felony Murder for the death of the third bank robber.
Defined. The crime of first degree murder of a law enforcement officer requires the prosecution prove that:
The elements in this crime are pretty straightforward. Of significance is that the prosecution does not have to prove premeditation. So, for example, if a person shoots and kills an officer during a routine traffic stop, then that person faces a charge of first degree murder of a law enforcement officer. The prosecution does not have to prove that the shooter thought about the decision to kill the officer before killing the officer.
Attempted First Degree Murder is when a person, with the intent to actually commit the murder, takes a step to commit the murder, but ultimately fails to commit the murder.
Attempt drops the felony category from a Class 1 Felony to a Class 2 Felony.
First Degree Murder is a Class 1 Felony.
For crimes committed before August 2, 2012:
All three types of first degree murder (Premeditated Murder, Felony Murder, and Murder of a Law Enforcement Officer) are punishable by:
For crimes committed on or after August 2, 2012:
Premeditated Murder and Murder of a Law Enforcement Officer are punishable by:
Felony Murder is still punishable by:
Life imprisonment means that a person is sentenced to prison to life with the possibility of release after 25 (or 35 years, if the victim was under 15 years of age or was an unborn child).
Natural life imprisonment means that a person is sentenced to prison without the possibility of release. It means that the person will never be eligible to be released from prison for any reason for the rest of the person’s life.
For a person to be sentenced to death in Arizona, the prosecution has to file a notice of intent to seek the death penalty.
During the penalty phase, evidence of any mitigating circumstances is presented to the jury. Mitigating circumstances are any factors that are a basis for a life sentence instead of a death sentence, so long as they relate to any sympathetic or other aspect of the defendant’s character, propensity, history or record, or circumstances of the offense. They are not an excuse or justification for the offense but are factors that in fairness or mercy may reduce the defendant’s moral culpability.
Mitigating circumstances may be found from any evidence presented during all of the phases of trial and come from either the defendant’s evidence of the prosecution’s evidence. Common mitigating circumstances include the defendant’s mental health issues that made his ability to appreciate the wrongfulness of his actions (but not in a way that it constitutes a defense to prosecution); the defendant’s horrendous childhood or upbringing; or a defendant’s young age.
If the jury unanimously agrees there is mitigation sufficiently substantial to call for leniency, then they must return a verdict of life. If the jury unanimously agree there is no mitigation, or the mitigation is not sufficiently substantial to call for leniency, then they must return a verdict of death.
Attempt drops the crime down to a Class 2 Felony. For Attempted First Degree Murder, you will typically face a minimum sentence of 7 years in prison and a maximum sentence of 21 years in prison.
The type of defense to raise depends on the way a person has been charged with First Degree Murder and the specific facts of the person’s case. Possible defenses, however, include the following:
Defendants found guilty except insane are confined to a mental institution instead of prison.
SIDE NOTE: Guilty except insane in Arizona, it is an affirmative defense, meaning that the defendant has the burden to prove that the defendant was guilty except insane by clear and convincing evidence (meaning that it was highly probable the defendant was insane).
First Degree Murder is the most serious crime you can face in Arizona. The punishments are the harshest with life imprisonment or even death as a possibility. The Phoenix homicide Attorneys at Feldman & Royle have the experience and knowledge to give you the best possible defense. Call us as soon as possible for a free consultation to see how we can help protect you or your loved one.