5 Things To Learn About Your Homicide Charge

Have you or a loved one been charged with homicide? Read these 5 things to learn about your homicide charge, then call our Phoenix attorneys.

1. Convicted of Murder

5 Things To Learn About Your Homicide ChargeAs with any conviction here in the state of Arizona, if you’re convicted of murder there is a range of sentences that you are going to face. Here in Arizona, we have mandatory sentencing statutes and regulations. Even the judge’s discretion is limited here in Arizona.

Generally, when you’re convicted of certain crimes, particularly murder, there’s a presumptive sentence. That means upon conviction, it’s presumed that this is the amount of time you’re going to get. There are opportunities to ask for a mitigated sentence or the minimum sentence. This is when evidence is injected into the sentencing hearing that causes the judge to say, “Well, maybe we shouldn’t give them the presumed sentence; we should mitigate it or give them the minimum.” On the other hand, the prosecutor can inject evidence that says, no, we should aggravate this sentence or give them the maximum sentence. This will be discussed in a sentencing hearing that will happen after a person is convicted.

What can happen to you if you’re convicted of murder? It depends on what kind of murder you’re convicted of. If it’s capital murder, you can be put to death. If it’s less than capital murder, you can serve life in prison. There could be a number of ranges of sentences depending on the murder charge and the other charges that are attached to it. Sometimes, sentences can be stacked. Is this your first offense, or is it your 15th offense? Were there other aggravating factors that caused sentence enhancements? These are all things that you will discuss with your lawyer. We have a duty under the law to walk over all of that – the worst thing that could happen to you and the most favorable outcome.

While no lawyer can promise you any outcome, we have an obligation to the law to go over with you the possible sentencing ranges and what can happen to you. There are number of things that can happen— anything from serving life in prison down to probation or dismissal of charges— so you want to talk with your lawyer about that and make sure that you’re fully aware of what your exposure is concerning your murder charge or whatever other charges you are facing.

2. Unable to Afford an Attorney

Anytime it comes down to representation, be it a civil case – and particularly a criminal case – the question is always, “Can I afford an attorney?” The real question is whether or not you can afford to not have an attorney. Particularly as it relates to criminal law ( because you could lose your life, liberty or property), there’s a constitutional safeguard in place that’s given to you in the Miranda warnings, which states that if you can’t afford an attorney, one will be appointed to represent you at no cost to you. If you cannot afford an attorney in a criminal matter, a public defender will be appointed to you.

That’s not so in civil matters. Generally, the court’s not going to give you an attorney. In some instances, if there’s a dependency hearing or something like that, the court could appoint counsel in those issues, but generally for a criminal matter, the judge will appoint you a public defender because that’s a constitutional right for you – you get a lawyer to represent you. If it’s ineffective assistance of counsel or you don’t want a lawyer, you can deny that lawyer.

If you want to represent yourself, which is not recommended, you can have advisory counsel while you try the case on your own. There are a number of issues involved, but generally the court’s going to appoint a lawyer to you. The question is do you want a private lawyer or do you want a public defender? If you’re thinking to yourself, “I want a private lawyer,” you’re probably going to be in better hands with a private lawyer. They have more flexibility, they have fewer cases, and they can put more attention and resources into it, but it’s not free.

Find a lawyer that will work with you as far as a payment plan is concerned and get creative about getting funds together. There are a number of things that you can do to gather up finances and work out payment arrangements so that you can get representation that you’re comfortable with. We’ve been behind the prison walls in this state plenty of times, and talked with inmates and folks that have been convicted who say, “Man, if I would’ve had a different lawyer … man, if I would’ve had different counsel, I would’ve fared differently in this.” Don’t be that person. Do what you need to do now.

3. Murder vs Manslaughter

One thing that we’re often asked by clients and folks that are genuinely inquisitive about law, particularly as it relates to homicide, is what the difference is between murder and manslaughter. Murder and manslaughter are both homicides. Homicide is the death of a human being by the hands of another human being. Manslaughter or murder are the criminal prescriptions that are given, where criminal liability is imputed to homicide. You could have committed homicide and still face no charges.

Murder and manslaughter differ in the fact that, generally, to commit murder, you have to have malice. There has to be some intent to do so— a felony murder or a wanton disregard for the sanctity of human life. There are things that play into it. Whereas manslaughter typically involves negligent homicide. There are additional factors. We would urge you sit with an attorney because it’s going to vary from case to case.

There’s a spectrum of things in homicide, from intentional murder with malice and forethought, down to negligent homicide, down to manslaughter. This is all important because of the sentencing ranges. Some sentencing ranges go down to four, five, six years. Some of the higher end murder charges could involve a sentence of death. You want to sit and talk with a lawyer if you or a family member has been charged with this. A lot of times, prosecutors will charge with a lesser charge included— if not murder than manslaughter. You want to sit and talk with your attorney to make sure that you are fashioning the case in such a way to where you can address the higher end stuff and the lesser included charges.

4. Charged With Murder

If you ever happen to be charged with murder, the first thing you should do is remain quiet. The police are not your friend. They’re agents of the prosecutor. They have no authority at all to lessen charges, to sweet talk the prosecutor. It doesn’t matter what they say to you— stop talking. They are not your friend. They are there to do a job, and that is to write these police reports, forward them to the prosecutor, and at some point, they will be the ones that will be testifying against you. Step number one, if you’re charged with murder or any other crime, stop talking. Be quiet.

The second thing, if you’ve been charged with murder and are are out of custody, contact a lawyer immediately so that at your initial appearance, your arraignment, you show up with competent counsel that’s going to walk through the whole case with you from start to finish so that you can make sure that the theory of the case and the approach to the case remains consistent the whole time. There are so many things that can happen in a murder case, and you want to make sure that you are getting yourself the best possible chance.

Finally, do not reach out to the friends or family of the victim. It doesn’t matter if the victim was a loved one, or your cousin, or baby mom, or anything like that. Stay away from the victims because, again, this is going to weigh into whether you’re going to be released on some type of bail or something. If they feel like the victims are being threatened or there’s a danger to the safety, you’ve got to be careful about all these things because in Arizona you have victims’ rights statutes. They have the right to weigh in on release conditions and other things, so stay away from the victims.

Be quiet. Be quiet. Stop talking. Get yourself a good lawyer. Stay away from the victims, and then address the charges head on. Don’t avoid them. They’re not going to go away. You’re not going to wave a magic wand and they go away. You’re going to have to forge a successful and adequate defense.

5. Choosing the Right Attorney

With regards to criminal charges being filed against a person, it is inarguable that one of the most serious charges for someone to be charged with is murder. It’s unimaginable. It’s greater than shoplifting, robbery, or most crimes you can think of. When you’re being charged with murder, there are a few rungs to it. There’s negligent homicide, there’s manslaughter, and there’s murder, where you start getting into intent and other things.

It’s important that you have a good attorney that understands how to navigate through the processes of a murder charge, particularly here in Arizona, because there are certain provisions here in Arizona, like the difference between murder two and manslaughter. If certain things are not found, they may not be able to convict you of murder two, but they can convict you of manslaughter if they’re not successful on murder two. The issue of self-defense comes up here. One aspect of Arizona law is that, if you can forge a successful defense of self-defense as a justification to murder, the prosecution now has the burden to prove that you were not acting in self-defense. What’s more, they have to prove that beyond a reasonable doubt, just like they’d have to prove the rest of the case.

You want to be very selective when choosing an attorney to deal with your murder case.
As it relates to capital murder, particularly in Arizona, our criminal code actually limits the number of attorneys that can practice in capital murder cases, where you or your family member can be sentenced to death, so be careful. There are criminal law experts out there. There are some folks that are not experts but that are very handy in dealing with it. Murder cases are very complex because you have to deal with multiple factors, including mental health statuses, family history, how the incident happened, etc, while also dealing with volumes and volumes of evidence to get the best possible outcome for someone that is charged with murder.

Just because a homicide has been committed, doesn’t mean that the person is guilty of murder. You need to talk with a skilled attorney that can sit with you and go over the facts of your case to develop a plan to present an adequate defense for you.


Have you or a loved one been involved in homicide defense case and have questions about these 5 things to learn about your homicide charge? Contact experienced Phoenix Homicide Defense Attorneys at Smith & Green today for a legal consultation.

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