Negligent homicide, sometimes referred to as criminally negligent homicide or involuntary manslaughter, is a form of murder under Arizona law. While murder is the most serious crime a person can face, the law carves out levels of severity for homicide charges. While still a very serious felony, negligent homicide is the lowest level of all murder charges. In fact, many negligent homicides charged in Arizona involve horrible mistakes and the death a person known to the person charged. As experienced homicide attorneys, we fight to protect those charged with a crime after a tragic accident.
For the crime of negligent homicide, Arizona law ARS 13-1102 requires the prosecution prove that you caused the death of another person with criminal negligence. You had no intention to kill when you commit negligent homicide.
Acting with criminal negligence means that you failed to recognize a substantial and unjustifiable risk of causing the death of another person. The type of risk the law is talking about is one that a reasonable person would not have taken. So, what raises the degree of negligence from ordinary civil liability to criminal liability is when you act in an extremely unreasonable way. Arizona calls this criminal negligence, while some states call it gross negligence.
Sometimes a person who is sadly involved in a tragic accident that results in another person’s death is charged for acting with criminal negligence with the crime of negligent homicide.
The above examples of situations that can lead to a negligent homicide charge show you the fine line between a tragic accident and negligent homicide. Also, many times Negligent Homicide cases involve families hurting their own loved ones. Criminal charges can make an already horrible and sad situation even worse. The family is already grieving and often do not want criminal charges brought against their own family member for what they consider to be a tragic accident.
If you or a loved one is charged with negligent homicide, then it is important that you have a skilled attorney on your side. Your attorney needs to ensure that the prosecution is not unfairly holding you criminally liable for a tragic accident.
Negligent homicide is very similar to manslaughter (ARS 13-1103), under Arizona law. The difference is that for negligent homicide, you are not aware of the risk, whereas for manslaughter, you are aware of the risk. In fact, negligent homicide used to be called involuntary manslaughter in Arizona. It is essentially an unintentional manslaughter.
SIDE NOTE: Sometimes, the prosecution will try to charge you with a more serious type of homicide, such as manslaughter or second degree murder. Convictions for negligent homicide are often the result of either:
In fact, there was a case in Arizona where the president and chief executive officer (CEO) of a sewer treatment plant was charged with manslaughter. But after trial, the jury convicted him of negligent homicide instead.
The CEO was an industry professional and knew the dangers of working at a sewer treatment plant, including dangerous toxic gases. He was aware of federal regulations regarding certain safety procedures and practices to make sewer treatment tanks safe for workers to enter.
Instead of following these regulations, he attempted to sidestep them and put into place unsafe policies that allowed his employees to enter underground tanks that were not safe. As a result, employees died when they were overcome by a toxic gas.
The prosecution sought charges for manslaughter and the case went to trial. The jury found the CEO guilty of the less-serious criminal offense of negligent homicide. The Arizona Court of Appeals upheld his convictions and said that there was plenty of evidence that the employees’ deaths were a direct result from the unsafe practices and policies adopted by the CEO on behalf of the company.
If the jury had convicted the CEO of manslaughter, it appears that the Arizona Court of Appeals would have also upheld those convictions because there was evidence that the CEO was aware of the risk.
These examples show you the fine line of manslaughter vs negligent homicide and the importance of having an experienced homicide attorney to defend you. You want to make sure that your criminal charge is dropped down to the lowest possible charge and that I fth ecase goes to trial you are acquitted.
Negligent homicide is a Class 4 Felony.
If you have no prior criminal record, and you did not use a deadly weapon (e.g., a gun) or dangerous instrument (e.g., a car or a baseball bat) to commit the crime, then the sentence for negligent homicide could be:
The prison terms increase if you have prior criminal convictions.
If you are charged with negligent homicide as a Class 4 Dangerous Felony, meaning that you either used a deadly weapon (e.g., a gun) or a dangerous instrument (e.g., a car or a baseball bat), then the sentence for negligent homicide includes a mandatory prison sentence. If this is the case, then you could be sentenced to:
And if you have a prior criminal history, then the prison terms again increase.
Because Negligent Homicide does not involve any intent to kill, it is never a defense to argue that you did not intend to commit the crime or that you were justified in any way to commit the crime. Instead, the main defenses to negligent homicide are:
One of the most common defenses is to argue that the death of the other person was the result of an accident, not criminal action. You argue that the prosecution cannot prove that your actions were criminally negligent. The death could have happened to any reasonable person under the same circumstances that you faced.
Another common defense to Negligent Homicide is to argue that your actions were not the cause of death. Some other event or person caused the death.
If you’re facing a charge of negligent homicide, you need someone that can evaluate every defense possible. At Feldman & Royle, we have the experience and skills necessary to ensure that the prosecution does not unfairly convict you for what is too often a tragic accident. If you or a loved one faces a charge of negligent homicide, contact an experienced homicide attorney as soon as possible to protect your rights. We offer a free, confidential consultation.