Arizona's First and Second-Degree Murder - Understanding the Differences

Feature Article

When we read the phrase “first-degree murder,” we immediately perceive it as one of the gravest offense a person could commit, and indeed, that's the case. In Arizona, first-degree murder is considered a class 1 felony, carrying a severe punishment of life in prison without the possibility of parole or punishable by death. However, not all murders fall under the same category. There are differences between first and second-degree murder, and knowing these differences could mean the difference between someone going free and someone being sentenced to life in prison.

What is First-Degree Murder?

First-degree murder is the most severe form of murder that exists under the law. Prosecutors can press for this charge when they believe that the perpetrator has killed someone intentionally and with premeditation, and when the killing fits a more detailed legal definition. For a murder to be considered first-degree, the perpetrator must have conducted some planning or forethought before the act of killing took place. This planning could include, for example, attempting to acquire a weapon, tracking and studying the victim's movements, among others.

What is Second-Degree Murder?

On the other hand, second-degree murder involves intentionally causing the death of another person without premeditation, meaning without prior planning. Since the defendant did not plan or premeditate the murder, the charge is less severe than first-degree murder. While it can result in a long prison sentence, the consequences of a second-degree murder charge are overall less severe than a first-degree murder charge.

What are the Main Differences Between First and Second Degree Murder?

The primary difference between first and second-degree murder is the presence of premeditation. Prosecutors can only charge a defendant with first-degree murder if they can prove that the suspect intentionally caused a person's death and had planned the murder beforehand. In contrast, second-degree murder does not require this aspect of premeditation. Instead, the prosecution must prove that the defendant intentionally killed someone, but did not have any prior plan.

When is Manslaughter Applicable?

When a person kills another without malice, they can be charged with manslaughter. In Arizona, manslaughter is a class 2 felony and is punishable by up to 12.5 years in prison. Manslaughter occurs in instances where the perpetrator had no intention of killing the victim, and the killing results of unintentional actions such as reckless driving or a fight that gets out of hand.

What is the Punishment for First and Second Degree Murder in Arizona?

As previously stated, first-degree murder is classified as a class 1 felony and carries a sentence of either life in prison without the possibility for parole or the death penalty. Second-degree murder is classified as a class 2 felony and is punishable by up to 22 years in prison.

What is the Difference between Murder vs Homicide?

Homicide is the act of one person killing another. It is an umbrella term for killing a person and includes acts outside of murder, such as manslaughter. Murder is a form of criminal homicide, differentiated by the perpetrator's intent. To convict someone of murder, the prosecutors must prove someone intended to kill another person, and if that proof doesn't exist, the charge will be reduced to manslaughter.

In Conclusion, Know Your Rights

If you find yourself facing homicide charges in Arizona or any other state, don't panic. You have the right to a fair trial and the right to defend yourself. Being charged with murder is a serious matter, and you should seek the help of a qualified and experienced criminal defense attorney. They can assess your case and explore your defense options, including negotiating a plea agreement or taking your case to trial.

First-Second-degree murder in Arizona