Supreme Court Rules on Provocation Manslaughter & Instructing Juries

In State v. Lua, Vice Chief Justice Pelander, writing on behalf of the Arizona Supreme Court, explained why the court decided to uphold the convictions and sentences of an individual facing two counts of attempted manslaughter.

The defendant was charged with two counts of attempted second-degree murder, among other charges not relevant to this decision. Despite the defendant’s objection, the court instructed the jury on something called “attempted provocation manslaughter.”

Attempted provocation manslaughter is a lesser offense than attempted second-degree murder, and arises out of a situation in which the defendant kills the victim “upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion resulting from adequate provocation by the victim.” Ultimately, the jury ruled to convict the defendant on two counts of provocation manslaughter.

The defendant appealed, claiming that the Peak v. Acuna (a case from 2002) ruling meant that provocation manslaughter was not the less serious version of second-degree murder. Despite the defendant’s petition, the appeals court affirmed the trial court’s ruling that the court was allowed to give the jury instructions regarding this lesser offense.

The Supreme Court of Arizona stated that courts are allowed to instruct juries regarding other types of offenses so long as that offense falls under the same umbrella as the charged offense AND there is enough evidence to support or necessitate a jury instruction.

Second-Degree Murder Versus Provocation Manslaughter

The crimes of second-degree murder and provocation manslaughter are detailed in the Arizona Revised Statutes 13-1104 and 13-1103, respectively.

Second-Degree Murder in Arizona

Second-degree murder is the killing of another without premeditation, either intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly with extreme indifference to human life.

Provocation Manslaughter in Arizona

There are five ways a person can commit the crime of manslaughter in Arizona. One way is by causing the death of another in the midst of a sudden quarrel or “during the heat of the moment” after there has been adequate provocation by the victim.

Second-degree murder is the more severe charge – a class 1 felony. Provocation manslaughter is a class 2 felony.

What is considered a “lesser offense”?

In Arizona, a lesser offense is a crime that comprises many of the same elements as a more serious offense in terms of degree. To be a lesser offense, a crime does not have to possess all of the same elements, just some. When “lesser offense” status is called into question, courts use something called the elements test – boil this down to, is it possible to commit the greater offense without committing the lesser offense? If yes, then the offense cannot qualify as a lesser offense.

When the Arizona Supreme Court stacked these two offenses against each other, it found that provocation manslaughter is not a lesser-included offense of second-degree murder.

In the end, Arizona’s high court affirmed the defendant’s convictions and sentences, but also delivered new guidelines for how jury instructions must be delivered in these types of cases.

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