Murder or homicide charges can come in different degrees. The most severe charge is first-degree murder.
According to the Arizona State Legislature, a first-degree murder charge could carry a sentence of life in prison or could result in the death penalty. Because of the seriousness of the penalties, prosecutors can only use this charge in specific situations.
First-degree murder requires that you planned or thought of killing the other person before going through with the act. You must know and intend for whatever you do to cause the death of the other person. Because of this requirement, accidental homicides cannot be first-degree murder.
However, there is an exception. If the death occurs during the commission of a violent felony act that the person is directly involved in, such as committing a sexual assault or fleeing from law enforcement, then it does qualify as first-degree murder.
The required element of premeditation is often something defense attorneys use to fight the charges.
Unborn baby exception
A mother or doctor who ends the life of an unborn child with purpose through a medical procedure is not guilty of first-degree murder. This exception removes any potential criminal charges from legal abortions.
To commit first-degree murder, there is no requirement for a specific mental state. The mental state may be something you use in your defense. It could play into the angle you take to defend against the charges, but the prosecutor will not consider it when charging you.
First-degree murder is incredibly serious. It is important that you understand the details of the charge against you because it can help to form your defense.