Homicide may appear to be a relatively simple subject. But when a person’s life has been taken, the criminal ramifications can become very complicated.
In Arizona, the criminal laws seem, at first glance, to be relatively straightforward. Homicide is defined, simply, as first degree or second degree murder, manslaughter, or negligent homicide. Other states have additional classifications, which seem a bit more complex. In California, for example, in addition to first degree murder and second degree murder, there is voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter, and gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.
But while the laws themselves may differ, the charges in an Arizona homicide can still be confusing. For example, a DUI which leads to a death is often charged as manslaughter. You will find examples, however, where the charge will be second degree murder. And what causes the difference may be rather slight, and not something that is easily determined by looking at the statutes. What this means is that there is a fair amount of prosecutorial discretion in determining which charge will be filed in a particular case.
When it comes to the difference between manslaughter and negligent homicide in Arizona, the charges can be equally confusing. A.R.S. § 13-1103 defines manslaughter, among other things, as “recklessly” taking the life of another person. Reckless behavior is further defined as being aware of and consciously disregarding a risk that is both substantial and unjustifiable under the circumstances. Negligent homicide involves a death caused by “criminal negligence.” That term is further defined as failing to perceive a substantial, unjustifiable risk that the result will occur, the conduct being a “gross deviation” from the standard of care that would be observed by a reasonable person in that situation.
The bottom line is that the difference between reckless behavior and criminal negligence may be both miniscule and subjective. There is little to guide us when it comes to explaining why behavior is “reckless” in one case, and a “gross deviation” in another. But the difference has serious consequences in terms of classification and sentencing. Manslaughter is a class 2 felony with (generally) a presumptive term of 5 years in prison, while criminally negligent homicide is a class 4 felony with (generally) a presumptive term of 2.5 years in prison.
It pays in these circumstances to have a Phoenix criminal attorney experienced in homicide cases by your side.
The Feldman Law Firm PLLC
1 E. Washington Street
Phoenix, AZ 85004