All homicides involve, in the first instance, the death of another human being. And all the states, including Arizona, divide homicide into various specific offenses. Murder, of course, is the most commonly referred to homicide offense, and depending on which state you are in, murder will be divided into two or more degrees. But not all homicides rise to the level of murder, and in Arizona, the term includes two additional offenses: manslaughter and negligent homicide. The question we’re addressing is the difference between the two.
Manslaughter has several different variations. It includes:
- Causing the death of another person through recklessness. Reckless behavior, in turn, involves disregard of a known, substantial risk of death, which disregard constitutes a “gross deviation” of the conduct of a reasonable person under the circumstances.
- Committing second degree murder (among other things, intentionally causing the death of another person, or causing a death through reckless behavior that indicates an extreme indifference to human life) as the result of a sudden dispute or in the “heat of passion.”
- Intentionally providing another person with the physical means to commit suicide, knowing that the other person intends to do so.
- Committing second degree murder while being coerced to do so through the use of force or threats of force against that person or a third person, which coercion a reasonable person would be unable to resist.
- Causing the death of an unborn child through knowingly or recklessly injuring the mother.
While there are also various defenses that can be raised, the general idea is that manslaughter lacks one or more elements – for example, premeditation, certain sexual conduct, victim status, etc., that causes the offense to be classified less harshly than murder. Manslaughter is a class 2 felony.
Negligent homicide is defined, very simply, as causing the death of another person with “criminal negligence.” That term is defined as the failure to perceive a substantial risk that the result – in this case death – will occur. The failure must be a “gross deviation” from the standard of care that that would be observed by a reasonable person in the same situation. Negligent homicide is a class 4 felony.
Differences and Similarities
While there may be situations in which it is clear which charge should be apply to a given set of facts, the definitions of manslaughter and negligent homicide sometimes overlap, particularly where the issues involve “recklessness” and an alleged “gross deviation” from a standard of care. The charge, in at least some cases, is driven by prosecutorial discretion. On the other hand, while the definitions may appear similar, the consequences are not. For first time felony offenders, the presumptive sentence for a class 2 felony is 5 years; for a class 4 felony, it is 2.5 years. And if the charge is deemed a “dangerous offense,” the presumptive sentences more than double.
Law Offices of David A. Black
40 North Central Avenue #1850
Phoenix, AZ 85004