Phoenix & Scottsdale Vehicular Manslaughter Attorney, Sheena Lemmons at Civil Rights Restored, DUI & Criminal Defense
Vehicular homicide as a category of offenses refers to a traffic accident where someone is killed. In order to be charged with vehicular homicide, the person must have acted recklessly or negligently regarding the apparent risks of the situation.
Vehicular homicide cases often involve factors such as excessive speeding, impairment by alcohol, illicit drugs, or prescription medication, aggressive driving, and traffic violations such as failure to stop at red lights or stop signs.
Vehicular manslaughter is the most commonly charged vehicular homicide offense in Arizona. However, it is possible to be charged under any of the below four homicide categories. The major difference between the four classifications of homicide is the mens rea, or the morally culpable mental state of the person who committed a criminal act.
- Negligent Vehicular Homicide
- Vehicular Manslaughter
- Second Degree Murder
- First Degree Murder
- Defenses to Vehicular Homicide
Phoenix Vehicular Homicide Lawyer
Our firm is dedicated to providing you with a white-glove service and the best possible criminal defense. We are a results-driven, aggressive, private criminal defense firm practicing in vehicular crimes and DUI and are prepared to help you fight the state’s case using modern defense strategies.
We Begin Preparing Every Case for Trial on Day 1!
If you are ready to start building your defense, contact Sheena Lemmons, Phoenix & Scottsdale DUI & Vehicular Manslaughter Attorney at Civil Rights Restored. We understand the seriousness of these felony charges and are prepared to help you understand your rights, answer your questions, and fight the state’s case against you.
If you were arrested and charged with manslaughter / vehicular homicide, Civil Rights Restored defends cases in Maricopa County including Phoenix, metro Phoenix area, Scottsdale, Tempe, Gilbert, Chandler, Mesa, Ahwatukee, Glendale, Avondale, and more.
Vehicular Homicide is a “Dangerous Offense” in Arizona
The state of Arizona charges vehicular homicide cases as a “dangerous offense.” A dangerous offense is an offense involving the use of a dangerous instrument, the vehicle. A.R.S. 13-105(13) (2022).
Dangerous Instrument A.R.S. 13-105(12) (2022)
A “dangerous instrument” is anything readily capable of causing death or serious physical injury under the circumstances with which it is used. In vehicular homicide, the dangerous instrument is the vehicle itself.
Dangerous Offense Sentencing A.R.S. 13-704 (2022)
The general sentencing guidelines for class 2 through class 6 dangerous felonies appears in the above referenced statute. If a person is convicted of any dangerous felony offense, it is not probation eligible. Dangerous offenses carry mandatory, lengthy prison sentences on conviction.
Negligent Vehicular Homicide Attorney
Negligent homicide is the lesser offense of the four categories of homicide because it requires the least culpable mens rea, or mental state. The required mens rea for negligent homicide is that the person acted with criminal negligence. Although it is the least severe of the homicide offenses, negligent homicide is a class 4 dangerous felony punishable by substantial terms of incarceration, heavy fines, and a permanent felony record on conviction.
What is Negligent Homicide in Arizona?
Negligent vehicular homicide is defined in A.R.S. 13-1102(A) (2022).
The prosecutor must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:
- A person acting with criminal negligence
- Caused the death of another person including an unborn child.
Criminal Negligence A.R.S. 13-105(10)(d) (2022)
Criminal negligence is the required mental state to support a charge of negligent homicide. Criminal negligence in Arizona means that a person unreasonably fails to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk.
The risk must be of such nature that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.
Sentencing and Punishments for Negligent Vehicular Homicide
Negligent homicide is a class 4 dangerous felony in Arizona. A dangerous offense is not probation eligible, which means if convicted, the person is sentenced to a mandatory prison term.
A first-offense, class 4 dangerous felony is punishable by:
- 4 – 8 years in prison
- Up to $150,000 fine
Vehicular Manslaughter Attorney
Vehicular manslaughter is a more serious offense than negligent homicide both in terms of the culpable mental state required for the offense as well as the sentencing for a conviction. Manslaughter is the most commonly charged of the vehicular homicide offenses in Arizona and a conviction results in a class 2 dangerous felony on your criminal record.
What is Vehicular Manslaughter in Arizona?
Vehicular manslaughter is defined in A.R.S. 13-1103(A) (2022).
The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that:
- A person recklessly
- caused the death of another person or unborn child.
Recklessly A.R.S. 13-105(10)(c) (2022)
Recklessly is the required mental state to support a charge of vehicular reckless manslaughter in Arizona. Recklessness is less than an intent to kill and more than criminal negligence. Recklessness means that a person is aware of and unreasonably disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk.
The risk must be of such nature and degree that disregard of the risk constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.
Examples of reckless conduct that could lead to a vehicular manslaughter charge include:
- Excessive / criminal speeding
- Racing on the highway / exhibition of speed
- Aggressive driving – which is speeding plus:
- Failure to obey traffic control devices, or
- Unsafe passing a vehicle on the right, or
- Unsafe lane changes, or
- Following a vehicle too closely, or
- Failure to yield the right-of-way.
Sentencing and Punishments for Vehicular Manslaughter
Vehicular reckless manslaughter is a class 2 dangerous felony in Arizona. If convicted, a dangerous offense is not probation eligible, which results in a mandatory prison sentence.
A first-offense dangerous class 2 felony is punishable by:
- 7 – 21 years in prison
- Up to $150,000 fine
Second Degree Vehicular Homicide Attorney
Second degree murder is a more serious charge than vehicular manslaughter due to the additional element of acting in extreme indifference to human life. Second degree vehicular homicide is a class 1 dangerous felony in Arizona. After vehicular manslaughter, second degree vehicular murder is the second most charged homicide offense in the state.
What is Second Degree Vehicular Murder in Arizona?
Second degree murder is defined in A.R.S. 13-1104(A)(3) (2022).
The state must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person acting without premeditation:
- Caused the death of another person or an unborn child,
- Recklessly engaged in conduct that created a grave risk of death,
- Acted under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to human life.
Extreme Indifference to Human Life
Extreme indifference to human life is a more culpable mental state than the recklessness standard required for manslaughter. Extreme indifference to human life is such an extreme disregard to risk that it rises to a legal equivalent to the intent to kill. The intent to kill, or malice aforethought, is what distinguishes murder from manslaughter.
There is no statutory definition of extreme indifference to human life as it pertains to reckless conduct. In Arizona, we look to the facts and circumstances of the situation giving rise to the death.
The state may charge you with second degree vehicular homicide if any of the following examples of extreme, reckless driving behavior or a combination of them applies:
- Criminal speeding and weaving between lanes on a busy road;
- DUI while driving a stolen car and criminal speeding;
- Super extreme DUI with an extremely high blood alcohol concentration;
- DUI and criminal speeding;
- DUI and committing numerous traffic violations such as failure to stop at red lights;
- DUI and aggressive driving;
- DUI, speeding, and texting while driving.
Sentencing and Punishments for Second Degree Vehicular Homicide
Second degree murder is a class 1 dangerous felony in Arizona, the most severe class of felony in the criminal code. A class 1 dangerous felony is not probation eligible, which means that a conviction will carry with it a substantial mandatory prison sentence.
A person who is convicted of second degree murder will be sentenced to:
- Minimum 10 year prison sentence to a maximum of 25 years in prison
If the victim is a child under fifteen (15) years old, it is considered a “dangerous crime against children” under A.R.S. 13-705 (2022) and carries a harsher sentence:
- Minimum 13 year prison sentence to a maximum of 27 years in prison
First Degree Vehicular Murder Attorney
First degree vehicular homicide is a class 1 dangerous felony punishable by life imprisonment, the harshest sentencing under the Arizona criminal code.
What is First Degree Murder in Arizona?
First Degree Murder is defined in A.R.S. 13-1105 (2002). With regards to vehicular homicide, there are two main examples where a person will be charged with first degree murder.
The first is deliberate, premediated murder, which is an intentional act involving the use of a vehicle to kill a person. The prosecution must prove the below elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt:
- Premediated Murder:
- A person acting intentionally or knowingly
- Causes the death of another person or an unborn child,
- With premeditation.
The next example of first degree vehicular murder is vehicular felony murder. Felony murder is where the killing occurs during the course of a dangerous felony. This is the most common type of vehicular first degree murder in Arizona. Vehicular felony murder is committed by causing the death of another person during the crime of unlawful flight from a pursuing law enforcement vehicle under ARS 28-622.01.
- Felony Murder – Unlawful Flight from Police:
- The person commits unlawful flight from a pursuing law enforcement vehicle under A.R.S. 28-622.01 and,
- In the course of and in furtherance of the offense or immediate flight from the offense,
- Causes the death of any person.
Unlawful Flight From Pursuing Law Enforcement Vehicle in Arizona
The underlying offense in vehicular felony murder is unlawful flight, also known as felony flight. See our Felony Flight page for more information.
In order to prove a person is guilty of unlawful flight, the prosecution must prove that:
- A driver of a motor vehicle
- Willfully flees or attempts to elude
- a pursuing official law enforcement vehicle.
In cases where the law enforcement vehicle is unmarked, as police vehicles commonly are in Arizona, the driver must know that the pursuing vehicle is law enforcement. This can be shown by the driver admitting to knowing it is law enforcement or by circumstantial evidence showing the driver knows it is law enforcement. Our goal is to challenge the state’s evidence that you knew it was actually a police vehicle pursuing you.
Sentencing and Punishments for First Degree Vehicular Murder
First degree vehicular murder and vehicular felony murder (involving unlawful flight) are both class 1 dangerous felonies and subject to the most severe penalty in the Arizona criminal code. A conviction carries a potential punishment of life imprisonment or death.
If the prosecutor files notice to pursue the death penalty, it will be up to the jury to weigh the mitigating and aggravating circumstances to determine whether the defendant will be sentenced to death.
Vehicular Homicide Defense Attorney in Phoenix, Arizona
Every vehicular homicide case is unique due to the different facts and circumstances of the situation. If you or a loved one were arrested for vehicular homicide, it is very important to consult with a criminal defense lawyer skilled at defending DUI and vehicular crimes to go over the facts of your case.
As a category of offenses, vehicular homicide, manslaughter, and murder carry severe consequences on conviction. At Civil Rights Restored, DUI & Vehicular Manslaughter Attorney, we are dedicated to doing everything we can to aggressively defend you and mitigate the consequences. Contact us for a free case review and to go over any questions you have.
Defenses to Vehicular Manslaughter & Homicide in Arizona
A strong defense starts with a skilled attorney with attention to detail. At the beginning stages of your case, you can expect your criminal defense attorney to request discovery, or the evidence pertaining to your case. Your attorney will review all of the evidence and conduct interviews with all relevant police officers, witnesses, and accident reconstruction experts to find the issues that exist in your case.
Our goal is to attack and weaken the state’s case against you to achieve a full dismissal, a favorable plea to reduced charges, and mitigate the damages.
In order for a person to be found guilty of homicide, the prosecution must prove that the person’s conduct was the actual cause of the alleged victim’s death.
- Intervening Superseding Cause – An independent, intervening event is a superseding cause if it is unforeseeable and abnormal or extraordinary. A superseding cause breaks the chain of criminal liability and forms an excuse, not a justification, between the defendant’s act and the victim’s death.
It is our goal to argue that the intervening event is a superseding cause to show that your actions did not cause the alleged victim’s death. It is the prosecutor’s burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that your actions were the actual cause of death.
A major benefit to the superseding cause defense is that you are entitled to an additional jury instruction on causation. Here, the prosecution must ALSO prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the superseding intervening event did NOT cause the victim’s death.
What is Not a Superseding Cause?
- Victim’s failure to wear a seatbelt in a DUI-related aggravated assault accident because it is foreseeable for a person to not wear a seatbelt as a condition of driving. State v. Bass, 198 Ariz. 571, 12 P.3d 796 (2000).
Every criminal defendant is protected by the rights afforded in the U.S. Constitution. If your rights were violated, we will file motions attacking the state’s evidence against you such as motions to dismiss the case or motions to preclude or suppress the evidence obtained unconstitutionally.
Examples of ways the state may have violated your rights:
- Miranda Warning Violation
- Violating Your Right to Counsel
- Illegal Search and Seizure
Our goal is to damage the state’s case against you with legal challenges. If we can prevent the state from using its strongest evidence, your case may be dismissed.
Attack the Evidence Against You
We are preparing your case for trial from day 1, which is how we get the best results for you.
This involves interviewing and cross-examining all relevant witnesses and experts in your case, reviewing all discovery, and having our own experts analyze your case.
- DUI – If an underlying issue in your case involves allegations that you were DUI when you caused the accident, we are a law firm that defends DUI cases. We will challenge the accuracy and reliability of the state’s police investigation, field sobriety tests, and forensic results of your breath, blood, or urine. The machines the state uses for chemical testing must be maintained properly and calibrated and are susceptible to attack. We can hire a forensic scientist or criminalist to testify for the defense to challenge the state’s evidence that you were DUI.
- Cause of the Accident – Our goal is to show that you did not cause the accident leading to the death of the alleged victim. We will challenge the state’s accident reconstruction expert regarding various factors surrounding the accident such as the conduct of the drivers, the rate of speed the vehicles were traveling, and how road conditions affected the outcome. We can also hire an accident reconstruction expert to testify for the defense.
- Witnesses – Eye witnesses are often civilians who the state will call on to testify to their personal knowledge of the accident such as direction of travel, the speed of travel, any driving behaviors, the location of incidents, time of day, weather conditions, road conditions, traffic conditions, whether the light was red or green, whether the defendant ran a stop sign, and any impressions from their personal interaction with the defendant, if any.
- We will interview and cross-examine all relevant witnesses in your case and challenge the accuracy and reliability of their testimony. Studies show that eye witness testimony is often very unreliable based on a person’s memory, their perception, vision, distance from the scene, obstruction of view, and length of time passed since the incident. In some cases, a witness includes a police officer who may have vehicle dashcam or bodycam footage to review, which may be exculpatory.
Help Me Defend My Case
If you are ready to speak with a skilled vehicular crimes defense attorney, call Sheena Lemmons at Civil Rights Restored, DUI & Vehicular Manslaughter Lawyer today.
We offer free consultations and are ready to go over the facts of your case at (480) 759-7479.
Start building your defense today.
Ready to Build Your Defense?
If you are ready to speak with a Phoenix & Scottsdale vehicular homicide attorney, contact Sheena Lemmons at Civil Rights Restored today.
Our goal is to help you resolve this case in the most beneficial way possible for you and your family. We will get to work on your case immediately after you hire us and are prepared to aggressively defend vehicular homicide charges. Our vehicular manslaughter / homicide trial attorney is skilled in modern defense strategies and is local to Phoenix, Arizona.
We are a results-driven private criminal defense firm dedicated to providing you with the best possible defense.
Let’s start fixing this together.
Arizona Vehicular Homicide FAQ’s
Murder is the unlawful, intentional killing of another person with malice aforethought. Malice aforethought means the person intends to kill someone. It does not always mean the person killed someone out of spitefulness, but can also include where the killer acted in extreme indifference for human life.
Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of another person without malice aforethought. The absence of malice aforethought makes manslaughter a less culpable, or blameworthy offense. Therefore, the punishment on conviction for manslaughter is less severe than murder.
It is possible for a person to be killed in a common, yet serious car accident and it not be a criminal offense. The difference is that a criminal act involves some level of moral wrongdoing whereas a civil car accident does not and is merely an accident. The remedy in a criminal case is the defendant faces punishment on conviction whereas in a civil case, the defendant pays the victim money for damages and restitution.
A criminal offense for vehicular homicide must be supported by the requisite criminal mens rea, or culpable mental state such as criminal negligence, recklessness, intentionally, or extreme indifference to human life.
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