Homicide, the taking of another person’s life, is divided into three categories in Arizona: negligent homicide, manslaughter, and murder. The distinctions between these three crimes lie mainly in motivation and the level of premeditation involved.
Aside from manslaughter and murder, Arizona recognizes a third category of homicide, negligent homicide. To be convicted of negligent homicide, a defendant must have unintentionally caused the death of another person through an act of negligence. Drunk drivers who cause fatal accidents, for example, may be guilty of negligent homicide. This crime is not punished as severely as other homicides in order to reflect its unintentional nature.
For a homicide to qualify as manslaughter, it must have been committed without premeditation or “malice aforethought,” a legal phrase indicating predetermined intent to take a life. So-called “crimes of passion,” in which one person kills another because of an argument or dispute, are generally prosecuted as manslaughter. Helping another person commit suicide also qualifies as manslaughter, as does killing an unborn child in the process of injuring or killing the mother.
Second Degree Murder
Second degree murder is intended to serve as a middle ground between manslaughter and murder. It usually involves a reckless disregard for human life, including endangering another in a way that could easily lead to death or acting in a way that is known to potentially cause death or injury.
First Degree Murder
First degree murder is defined by premeditation and intention to kill another person. Certain weapons or means of killing someone, like strangling or poisoning, inherently indicate intent to kill and are always prosecuted as first degree murder. If homicide is committed during the commission of another felony, like kidnapping or arson, it is considered first degree murder. Similarly, if a defendant has killed a police officer in the line of duty, he will be charged with first-degree murder.
Arizona has some of the toughest penalties in the nation for homicide, up to and including the death penalty. If you need legal assistance, call Blumberg & Associates at (602) 277-6180.