First Degree Murder (A.R.S §13-1105)
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In Arizona, per A.R.S §13-1105 “First-Degree Murder” occurs when a person who is intending (or knowing) that his conduct will cause the death of another person, actually does cause the death of another person, with premeditation.
In addition, First-Degree Murder can be charged when a death occurs during the commission of certain felonies, called the “Felony Murder Rule.” These felonies include: Sexual Conduct with a Minor; Sexual Assault; Child Molestation; Terrorism; certain Marijuana and Dangerous Drugs offenses which exceed the statutory threshold amounts and involve the use of minors; Drive-By Shooting; Kidnapping; Burglary; Arson; Robbery; certain types of Escape; Child Abuse; and Unlawful Flight from a Pursuing Law Enforcement Vehicle.
The death may not be intentional, it could be totally accidental and the defendant could still be charged with First-Degree Murder, so long as the death occurred in the course of and in furtherance of the offense, or immediate flight thereafter.
Additionally, the defendant need not even be the person who caused the death; felons are responsible for any deaths that occur during the felony, regardless of who caused it. For example, one of the defendants’ co-felons shot an innocent bystander, or a bank security guard accidentally shot an innocent bystander while attempting to shoot the defendant robbing the bank; the defendant can be charged with Felony Murder in both situations. Additionally, anyone who is involved in the commission of the felony, not matter how slight their involvement is in the offense, is liable for any death that results.
For example, if a defendant drove a passenger over to a third person’s house in order to commit a Burglary, and if in the process the passenger subsequently got into an argument inside the house and had to shoot the house owner, the driver waiting outside would be charged with the murder also! This is so even though he was only acting as an accomplice to murder, the “get-away driver” and had no knowledge that either party was armed or that violence would become involved.
Lastly, a crime will always be charged as First-Degree Murder if a person intended or knew that their conduct would cause the death of a police officer, and they did cause the death of a police officer who was in the line of duty.
Contact DM Cantor immediately if you have been charged (or in the pre-charge phase) with First Degree Murder in Arizona. Call our offices at 602-307-0808 for a Free Consultation.
Possible Punishment for First Degree Murder
For conviction of a First-Degree Murder where the date of the murder occurred prior to August 2, 2012, there are only three possible penalties: the minimum sentence is life imprisonment with no possibility of release until twenty-five (25) years of “day-for-day” prison time has been served; “natural life”, which involves life in prison without the possibility of release; and the maximum is “Capital Punishment” (i.e., the Death Penalty).
For a conviction of a First-Degree Murder where the date of the murder occurred on or after August 2, 2012, there are only two possible penalties: the Death Penalty, and natural life in prison. The most important role of an attorney in a First-Degree Murder case is to attempt to get the prosecutor to take the Death Penalty off of the table. The Death Penalty is the most severe punishment known to man, and takes an extreme toll on the defendant and their family. Skilled negotiators are important to convince the prosecution that the Death Penalty is not warranted.
Possible Defenses for First Degree Murder
The two most often relied upon defenses to First-Degree Premeditated Murder are “Self-Defense” (i.e., Justification) and “Supervening Cause.” Self-Defense argues that the use of deadly force by the defendant was necessary in order to protect himself against the deceased who was using deadly force against him. The “Supervening Cause” defense argues that it was not the defendant’s actions which killed the deceased, that something else actually caused the death. An example of a supervening cause would include a medical error by emergency treating personnel or other medical hospital personnel caused the person’s death, not the bullet from the defendant’s gun.
If the defendant is charged with First-Degree Murder under the Felony Murder Rule, it is very important to vigorously defend against the underlying felony charge. Once the prosecution receives a conviction of the underlying felony, it is extremely easy to convict the defendant of the felony murder associated with it. These cases are so complex that they require a litany of defense experts including private investigators, gunshot residue experts, DNA experts, accident reconstruction experts, and human factors experts. Additionally, it is crucial to hire the best mitigation expert to convince the sentencer why this individual defendant does not deserve the death penalty. David Michael Cantor is “Death Penalty Qualified”. This means he has “first-chaired” and has been substantially involved in Capital Murder Trials in the past.
Because our law firm fights conviction from all angles, we would assert a wide range of murder defenses and challenges to constitutional violations that apply in all criminal cases. The possibilities are numerous and diverse. One of those we frequently assert is a “Miranda rights violation.” In Arizona, the standard of whether any incriminating statement (i.e., a statement which tends to admit guilt) is admissible into evidence is based upon a “voluntariness” standard. If we can demonstrate that the police coerced you (i.e., intimidated or tricked you) into making a confession or inculpatory statement, or that they did not properly read you your Miranda Rights, then we can suppress those statements and any evidence gathered as a direct result of those statements. In addition, the “denial of right to Counsel” is another common defense which is often raised. This occurs when a suspect is in custody and requests to speak to their attorney, but is denied and questioning continues.
Other defenses may include challenging the validity of any search warrant, or whether there were any “forensic flaws” during the investigation of your case. Depending on what else you have been charged with, this could include exposing flawed procedures regarding blood, breath, and urine testing; fingerprints analysis; DNA testing; ballistics; gunshot residue testing; computer analysis/cloning hard drive procedures; forensic financial accounting reviews; etc.. Lastly, one of the most common defense tactics is exposing sloppy or misleading police reports which include everything from misstatements, false statements, flawed photo line-ups and other identification procedures, and inaccurate crime scene reconstruction. It is important to hire a skilled First-Degree Murder lawyer to defend you who has knowledge of all the possible defenses to assert in your case.