Phoenix Lawyer Defending Against Homicide Charges

In Arizona, the state classifies homicide as first-degree murder, second-degree murder, manslaughter or negligent homicide. This classification impacts the length of the sentence if the defendant is convicted. All of these are serious charges and it’s important to seek legal advice as soon as you realize you are being investigated for homicide. If you were charged with manslaughter, you should consult seasoned Phoenix manslaughter defense lawyer James E. Novak. Mr. Novak is a former prosecutor who understands how prosecutors think and what strategies might best be used to fight a manslaughter charge.


Manslaughter is a class 2 felony in Arizona. A prosecutor trying to establish manslaughter under Arizona Revised Statutes (A.R.S.) 13-1103 must prove you: (1) recklessly caused the death of another, (2) perpetrated second degree murder due to heat of passion based on the victim’s adequate provocation, (3) intentionally gave another the physical means to commit suicide when knowing of the other’s intention to commit suicide, (4) perpetrated second degree murder while being coerced to do it through threat or use of illegal deadly force that a reasonable person wouldn’t have been able to resist, or (5) recklessly or knowingly causing an unborn baby’s death through physical injury to his or her mom. The last situation will not be prosecuted if: (1) you were the unborn baby’s mother, (2) you were performing medical treatment on the pregnant woman or unborn baby, (3) you were performing an abortion to which the pregnant woman consented. A manslaughter defense attorney in Phoenix can investigate your specific situation and identify the weak points in the prosecution’s case.

You will be considered to have recklessly caused another’s death if you are aware of and consciously disregard a substantial and unjustifiable risk that a particular result will occur. The risk must be of a nature and extent that disregarding it amounts to a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that would be used by a reasonable person under the same circumstances. For instance, you could be charged with manslaughter if you drive under the influence and kill a pedestrian. Or manslaughter might be charged if you showed your firearm to friends at a party and it killed someone when it discharged.

The presumptive sentence for first offense manslaughter is five years. However, the full sentencing range for first offense manslaughter, when there aren’t any mitigating or aggravating factors, is 4-10 years. The potential sentence is longer for subsequent offenses.

Prosecutorial Discretion Over the Charges

Prosecutors may have the discretion to charge you with negligent homicide rather than manslaughter. Negligent homicide occurs when defendant did not perceive the unjustifiable and substantial risk that death would occur. Negligent homicide is a class 4 felony rather than a class 2 felony; this means the potential sentencing is less harsh.

There is a very fine distinction between criminal negligence and reckless conduct. An experienced Phoenix manslaughter defense attorney may be able to secure a dismissal or negotiate a plea deal so that the charge is negligent homicide rather than manslaughter.


A conviction for manslaughter is not assured. There are various defenses you may be able to raise. For example, you may be able to establish substantive defenses such as self-defense, defense of others, or superseding cause. A superseding cause exists if something other than your actions killed the decedent. For example, if the doctor who treated the decedent made a grave mistake in treatment, the error might have been a superseding cause of death. Often experts are required for this defense.

In other circumstances, it may be appropriate to raise a procedural or constitutional defense. If the police or prosecutor committed errors, the defense may be able to bring a motion to suppress evidence that is key to manslaughter charges.

Retain a Seasoned Phoenix Lawyer

If you’re investigated for or charged with manslaughter in the Phoenix area, call manslaughter defense lawyer James E. Novak for a consultation. Mr. Novak brings to bear his past experience as a prosecutor when strategizing about how best to defend a client charged with manslaughter or another crime. He represents clients in Phoenix, as well as Scottsdale, Gilbert, Chandler, Mesa, Tempe and throughout Maricopa County. Contact him at (480) 413-1499 or complete our online form.

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