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Are you or a loved one facing murder charges in Phoenix, AZ? Contact Orent Law Offices for immediate legal assistance. A strong defense can be the difference between significant time behind bars, a might lighter sentence, or getting the charges dropped, altogether.
For decades, we’ve been standing up for the people in the Phoenix area and fighting to help them beat criminal charges. We’re here to help you, too. Contact our experienced Phoenix murder defense attorneys to schedule a free consultation today and learn more.
As you probably know, murder is an incredibly serious crime that can result in life imprisonment or even the death penalty. While the most criminalized form of this offense in Phoenix, Arizona is first-degree murder, there are lesser crimes involving the death of a victim that you can be charged with. These include second-degree murder, felony murder, manslaughter, and negligent homicide.
As mentioned, first-degree murder is considered the most severe form of murder in Arizona. To be convicted of the crime under ARS § 13-1105, the prosecutor must show that your actions were “premeditated.” This means that the state must prove that you intended to commit murder at some point prior to actually following through on the act.
Bear in mind that premeditation does not necessarily mean that a person took considerable time to plan out the act. Instead, it can develop in the moments just before the crime is committed. An example would be if a stranger slighted you on the street and you followed him home to attack him.
It’s important to note that first-degree murder also includes intentionally or knowingly causing the death of a law enforcement officer acting in the line of duty. In this case, a prosecutor does not need to show that the act was premeditated.
Further, victims of first-degree murder can be unborn children. However, there are exceptions to this rule, provided that the person involved was:
Similarly, a pregnant woman will not face first-degree murder charges for getting an abortion.
With that in mind, first-degree murder is considered a Class 1 Felony in Arizona. This can result in a punishment of either death or life imprisonment.
Note that first-degree murder also includes what is known as “felony murder.” Felony murder applies in situations where death is caused while a person in the process of committing or attempting to commit a listed felony crime. The crimes that could lead to a felony murder charge include, but are not limited to:
Keep in mind that felony murder does not require the perpetrator to have a specific mental state. In other words, unlike first-degree murder, no premeditation is required. This means that even in cases where death occurs by accident, the person engaged in the felony could still be convicted of first-degree murder. Felony murder also carries a punishment of either life imprisonment or the death penalty.
By contrast, second-degree murder involves a person either intentionally or knowingly causing death to a person. Under ARS § 13-1104, there is no premeditation requirement, but a person must intend to kill. In other words, in this case an intention to murder is formed on the spot with no prior planning.
Note that the crime also includes recklessly engaging in conduct that creates a high risk of death, which then leads to a person being killed. For example, if you wave a loaded gun around in public and begin firing it into the air, this would constitute an incredibly dangerous act that could easily result in someone being seriously injured or killed. If someone does get shot and dies, you could be charged with second-degree murder. Here, it doesn’t matter that you didn’t intend to kill anyone.
It’s important to recognize that unborn children can also be potential victims of this crime, with the same exceptions applying as with first-degree murder.
Now, in Arizona, second-degree murder is considered a Class 1 Felony. This carries a potential prison sentence of between 10 and 25 years. But, if an offender has been convicted of second-degree murder in the past, or has prior felonies involving a dangerous offense, the penalty is more severe.
A dangerous offense in Arizona involves the use or attempted use of a deadly weapon, or the infliction of serious injury on a person. This means that if an offender has a dangerous offense on his or her record and is convicted of second-degree murder, he or she would face a prison sentence of between 15 and 29 years. As noted, this punishment would also apply if a person is has a prior conviction for second-degree murder.
Further, if the victim is under 15 years of age or is an unborn child, the period of incarceration is increased. Specifically, the offender faces a prison sentence of between 13 and 27 years. If the perpetrator has a prior felony on his or her record, the term extends to a period of between 23 and 37 years.
Now, when someone’s reckless behavior leads to the death of another person, they may be charged with manslaughter, as defined by ARS § 13-1103. Manslaughter often occurs during the heat of passion and as a result of being suddenly provoked. An example would be if a person engaged in a deadly bar fight after being called a derogatory name.
Other forms of manslaughter involve helping someone commit suicide or intentionally killing another person while being forced to do so. In Arizona, manslaughter is considered a Class 2 Felony, which can result in a prison sentence of between 3 and 21 years. Note that the length of the sentence depends in part on whether a dangerous weapon was used.
By contrast, negligent homicide involves a person acting with what is known as “criminal negligence,” which causes the death of another person. Criminal negligence means that the perpetrator’s actions far outside the bounds of what a reasonable person would have done in the situation. A common example is a DUI that leads to an accident and the death of a driver or pedestrian.
Under defined in ARS § 13-1102, negligent homicide is considered a Class 4 Felony in Arizona. This can result in a prison term of between 1 and 8 years. Like manslaughter, the length of the term depends in part on whether a dangerous weapon was used in the commission of the crime.
Keep in mind that self-defense is a legal defense to murder in Arizona, provided that the use of force was “justified.” As you might imagine, this is not always clear cut and depends on the specific circumstances. Generally speaking, the question is whether a reasonable person would have believed that the use of deadly force was immediately necessary to protect oneself or another.
Now, under Arizona law, you do not have a duty to retreat before using physical force to protect yourself or another person. But, the amount of force used in response must be proportional. For example, if someone throws a punch at you, it would not be reasonable to fire a weapon at them.
This also means that you generally can’t claim self-defense if you started a fight. However, if you withdrew from the altercation and the other person continued to attack, you would be able to use a reasonable amount of force – including potentially deadly force – to protect yourself.
Further, you cannot use self-defense as a basis to resist arrest, provided that you knew or should have known that a law enforcement officer was arresting you. This is true even if the arrest was unlawful.
As you can see, the laws relating to murder are complex. For that reason, having a qualified Phoenix criminal defense attorney on your side will make sure that all defenses available to you are raised. In addition, if your case is not strong enough for an acquittal, you may be able to have your charges reduced. As mentioned, the punishment for manslaughter is much less than first-degree murder.
Now, in all criminal cases, the prosecution must prove your guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This means that there can be no other logical explanation for the facts other than you committed the crime in question. This is a high standard to meet and requires significant evidence.
Remember, murder charges are dependent on your state of mind, so one defense would be that you had no intent to cause harm to someone. If you are charged with felony murder, a defense would be that you did not commit or attempt to commit one of the underlying felonies.
Finally, you may have certain constitutional defenses that you can raise. Examples would be if your Miranda Rights were not given at the time of your arrest, or you were the victim of an illegal search and seizure. This is important because any evidence taken as a result of these violations cannot be used at trial to prove your guilt.
If you are charged with murder you are entitled to have an attorney represent you at all stages of the legal process. Murder charges are serious and a conviction devastate your future. So, you need a Phoenix criminal defense attorney with years of experience representing clients charged with violent crimes.
At Orent Law Offices, we know that your future is on the line. We appreciate that you’re probably stressed out and worried. We want you to know that we’ll do whatever we can to help you secure the best possible outcome in your criminal murder case. All you have to do is give us a call today to set up a free consultation. It’s that easy.