Murder has been a punishable crime in virtually every known society throughout history. In ancient societies, and in some places in present-day, murder was punished by the family or close friends of the victim, often in an eye-for-eye type of way. In civilized societies such as modern America, murder is defined more specifically, so that appropriate measures can be meted out.
While the unlawful, premeditated taking of a life is always considered murder, various states have their own additional definitions. There are also differences in penalties for murder in different states. Felony murder is first degree murder, and is possible in 46 of the 50 states.
Murder is divided into degrees, among other distinctions. First degree murder is taking someone’s life willfully, and premeditatedly. That is, it is the most deliberate form of murder, and is typically what the average layman thinks of when the word “murder” is mentioned. An attorney will often work to reduce the sentence from this type of murder to a lesser charge, if it becomes obvious during the trial that being acquitted is unlikely.
In Arizona, first degree murder is punishable by either the death penalty, life without parole, or life with parole. Parole, if granted, is only possible after a minimum of 25 years served, or 35 years in the case of the killing of an individual 15 years old or younger (including the unborn).
Second degree murder is similar to first degree, except that it is not planned ahead of time or “premeditated”. The difference between this type of murder and either first degree murder or voluntary manslaughter is sometimes indistinct. Generally, second degree murder results from a wanton disregard for human life. For example, if a person willfully attacks and injures another, and without specifically planning this ahead of time, and the person dies of his wounds, this might possibly be considered second degree murder (although such a final ruling is, of course, the result of a trial and verdict).
In Arizona the mandatory sentence for second degree murder is imprisonment for more than 10 but no more than 25 years.
Voluntary manslaughter is less severe than second degree murder, but is quite similar. The difference is that voluntary manslaughter is generally considered to be a willful killing by an individual who could be reasonably be expected to be in a highly emotional or agitated state. For example, consider the example given for second degree murder. But, in this case, the attack was instigated by some revelation of infidelity or other emotional hot-button. Both cases are non-premeditated, but are willful, but the difference is the emotional state of the perpetrator. A lawyer skilled in negotiating the waters of Arizona law is the best option for defense against a charge of voluntary manslaughter. A good lawyer can also help determine whether plea bargains should be made.
The penalty for voluntary manslaughter is imprisonment for up to 12.5 years. This is for a first offense. A second offense will likely carry a stiffer penalty, and second offenses are also often more likely to be considered a more severe crime than manslaughter.
Involuntary manslaughter, termed negligent homicide in Arizona law, is the least severe penal crime that involves taking a life. While other three types are considered voluntary killing, in the case of negligent homicide the life is taken by accident. However, it is still a punishable crime because the actions that led to the killing are both intentional and careless of human life. An example of involuntary manslaughter is driving drunk, and then getting into an accident that kills a person. While the death itself is unintentional, the act of driving drunk is illegal, intentional, and a known endangerment of human life.
The penalty for negligent homicide in Arizona is 3.75 years imprisonment or less. In the aforementioned case of negligent homicide caused by drunk driving, there may be an additional monetary penalty, since the act of driving the vehicle is itself a crime.