Understanding Second Degree Murder in Arizona

second degree murders - barbed wire and fence around a jail

Understanding Second Degree Murder in Arizona

Second degree murders in Arizona are an extremely serious offense. If found guilty, defendants face lengthy jail time in state prison. 

Two men are leaving a bar at the same time on a Friday night. One of them says something to the other, and the other man takes offense. A heated argument begins between the two men. Suddenly one of the men pulls out a gun, shoots the other man in the chest, and runs off. The man who was shot died at the scene. 

When police catch the shooter later that evening, they book and charge him under Arizona ARS 13-1104—a statute that covers second degree murders. 

What is second degree murder in Arizona?  

Arizona statute ARS 13-1104 classifies second degree murder as the act of causing the death of another person or intentionally causing the death of another person, including an unborn child. 

For a guilty verdict, a prosecuting attorney must show one of the following:

  • The defendant knew their actions would kill or severely injure another person
  • The defendant intentionally killed the other person without prior planning
  • The defendant took part in extremely reckless actions showing a lack of concern for another human life

The main difference between first degree murder and second degree murder is prior planning. First degree murder charges are only for a premeditated killing. In our scenario, police charge the shooter with second degree murder because he knew what his action—shooting the gun—would do to the other person. However, he had not planned the incident. 

How much time do you get for second degree murder in Arizona? 

In Arizona, second degree murders are Class 1 felonies punishable by 10 to 25 years in state prison. 

The prison sentence for second degree murder is “day-for-day” prison time, meaning a defendant is not eligible for time off for good behavior or early release. Guilty defendants carry their second degree murder prison sentences out to the full extent. 

Second degree murder is not a capital punishment crime in Arizona. 

How are second degree murders defended?  

There are a few defenses criminal defense lawyers use to defend second degree murders in Arizona. 

Not Intentional

With a second degree murder charge, a prosecuting attorney must show the defendant acted with intent and knew their actions would kill the other person. In our earlier scenario, if the shooter had fired his gun into the air and inadvertently shot and killed another person, his defense attorney could argue he had not intended to kill anyone. 

Acted In the Heat of Passion

In our scenario, a criminal defense attorney could argue the other man provoked the shooter during the argument. His act of shooting the other man happened in the heat of passion. Using that argument, a judge may reduce the charges from second degree murder to manslaughter


A second degree murder charge could drop if a criminal defense attorney proves the defendant was acting in self-defense. For example, if in our scenario the other man first lunged at the shooting man with a knife, the shooting man’s attorney could prove he was acting in self-defense. 

Felony Lawyer in Phoenix AZ

Second degree murders are grievous crimes in Arizona. Defendants found guilty of second degree murder not only face lengthy jail time, but also the loss of certain freedoms and black marks on their permanent record. In order to have your second degree murder charges overturned, you need a certified criminal law specialist like Todd Coolidge in your corner who will not rest until reaching the best outcome for your particular case. Call us or send us a message today to schedule a consultation in Phoenix or Chandler. 

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