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First Degree? Second Degree? What Do Degrees of Murder Mean?

The common denominator in all murder cases is that someone ends up dead, but the law makes distinctions between first degree and second degree.

Actually, the law makes a lot of distinctions between different types of homicide. In Arizona, that includes murder, manslaughter, and negligent homicide. To cover the wide range of murder cases, the state divides it into two categories.

Like with most crimes, the difference rests on the intent of the person who committed the crime. It’s not just about the killing; it’s also about the violation of social norms.

It’s no secret that society doesn’t condone random killings; it would make it hard to keep law and order if we didn’t punish that kind of behavior.

But even worse than killing, in the eyes of the law, is planning to kill. That means the suspect is not only capable of unnecessary violence, but planned on carrying it out.

That’s what is generally considered first degree murder. Specifically, Arizona law defines first degree murder as premeditated and intentional killing.

Premeditation doesn’t require some long and well-thought out plan. If at any point before the suspect acts, he intends or knows his actions will kill, that is sufficient.

If premeditation can’t be proven but the killing was nonetheless intentional, second-degree murder would generally be the appropriate charge.

When the law says intentional, that doesn’t necessarily mean the person intended to kill. It can include situations where the person knew death or serious physical injury would result. It also encompasses actions that show “extreme indifference to human life.”

But what about if you were provoked? Is that still murder?

Well, it’s still a crime, but Arizona doesn’t define it as murder. If a person kills intentionally, but without premeditation, and the murder happens in “the heat of passion,” with adequate provocation, the charge may be dropped to manslaughter.

That’s still a very serious charge, but it is a step below murder.

Regardless of the specific charge, if you’re charged with any kind of homicide, or really any crime, it’s time to get a lawyer. After all, it’s your freedom on the line.

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