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Posted on October 7, 2023 in Arizona Law

Manslaughter vs. Criminally Negligent Homicide in Arizona

When facing criminal charges for causing someone’s death in Arizona, it’s crucial to understand the distinctions among different categories of homicide. This knowledge can significantly influence how your legal defense is structured.

In Arizona, intentional or unintentional acts leading to loss of life may fall under several headings: first-degree murder, second-degree murder, manslaughter, or criminally negligent homicide. The key variations between manslaughter and criminally negligent homicide largely rely on aspects such as mens rea – the mental state accompanying a wrongful action – and the level of negligence involved.

Manslaughter in Arizona

Manslaughter involves taking someone’s life. It consists of an element of recklessness, where one is aware of the substantial risk their actions could pose to another person’s life yet consciously disregards that risk. Note that manslaughter doesn’t imply intent to take someone’s life.

The statute provides five very specific examples of conduct that can lead to manslaughter charges:

Recklessly Causing Death

This could include driving under the influence and striking a pedestrian, resulting in their death.

Killing in the Heat of Passion or Upon Sudden Quarrel

An example is if two individuals get into an argument, leading one to impulsively strike out and cause the other’s death. 

Assisting Suicide

Providing means or instruction with full knowledge that this will be used for committing suicide could fall into this category.

Coerced Second-Degree Murder

This covers situations where an individual, while under duress or threat of immediate deadly force against them or a third party, commits second-degree murder. An example could be a person who is held at gunpoint and forced to shoot another.

Causing a Miscarriage 

For example, if someone physically harms a pregnant woman – intentionally or recklessly – and it leads to the loss of her unborn child.

Regardless of the scenario, it’s critical to work with an experienced manslaughter defense attorney as soon as possible to start building your defense. 

Penalties for Manslaughter

Manslaughter is classified as a more serious crime than criminally negligent homicide and leads to serious penalties. As a Class 2 felony, it carries a mitigated sentence of 3 years, an aggravated sentence of 12.5 years, and a presumptive prison term of 5 years.

Criminally Negligent Homicide in Arizona

When it comes to negligent homicide, the emphasis is on criminal negligence. This represents a higher level of carelessness than typical negligence.

The defendant does not intentionally set out to cause harm or death but acts so carelessly that they fail to notice a substantial risk that any reasonable person would have recognized in similar circumstances. The crux here is their failure to perceive an imminent danger that could eventually lead to a loss of life.

Examples of Criminally Negligent Homicide

Arizona law does not define specific instances of criminally negligent homicide as it does with manslaughter. Instead, this crime broadly pertains to actions (or lack thereof) so careless that they lead directly to the loss of human life. 

Examples include:

Carelessly Handling a Gun

If someone is cavalierly handling a firearm and unintentionally shoots another person, resulting in their death, this could be seen as criminal negligence.

Leaving a Child in a Hot Car

If an individual locks their child in a car exposed to extreme heat and this results in the child’s death, this is another case that could lead to negligent homicide charges.

Negligently Starting a Fire

Causing another person’s death by unintentionally starting a fire might also lead to negligent homicide charges.

Penalties for Criminally Negligent Homicide

Criminally negligent homicide is charged as a class 4 felony. This carries a mitigated sentence of 1 year up to an aggravated sentence of 3.75 years imprisonment and a presumptive sentence of 2.5 years.

Understanding the Primary Difference Between Manslaughter and Criminally Negligent Homicide in AZ

The important distinction lies in the level of awareness. The recklessness involved in a manslaughter charge requires an acknowledgement yet disregard of a risky behavior, while criminal negligence illustrates a person’s obliviousness to that very risk. Neither crime alleges that the defendant intended to take someone’s life. 

If faced with charges of either manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide in Arizona, it’s strongly recommended to seek experienced representation immediately. If you need help, don’t hesitate to contact us today to schedule a free consultation with a homicide defense attorney.

Contact the Criminal Defense Lawyers at Orent Law Offices In Phoenix To Get Legal Assistance Today

For more information, contact the criminal defense attorney Craig Orent. Give us a call at (480) 656-7301 or visit our law office at 11811 N Tatum Blvd UNIT 3031, Phoenix, AZ 85028. We offer a free case evaluation, so get the help you deserve today.

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