Premeditation is a key concept in criminal law – particularly in homicide cases. Whether or not a crime was premeditated is a critical factor in determining the degree of the offense and the penalties imposed against the defendant upon conviction. Understanding the role of premeditation in your criminal defense case can help you learn what to expect from the process ahead.

What Is the Legal Definition of Premeditation?

According to Arizona Revised Statutes Section 13-1101 – definitions for the state’s homicide law – premeditation means to “act with the intention or knowledge that the defendant will kill another human being, when such intention or knowledge precedes the killing by a length of time that permits reflection.”

If a defendant attempts to kill another person after taking enough time to reflect on the intent to kill or knowledge that his or her actions will result in someone’s death, it is premeditated. Proof that the defendant actually reflected on the intention or knowledge is not required; it is only necessary to show that the defendant had enough time to reflect prior to the killing.

Premeditation vs. Heat of Passion

The opposite of premeditation is killing someone in the heat of passion. This is a common defense used against allegations of premeditation. Arizona law states that “an act is not done with premeditation if it is the instant effect of a sudden quarrel or heat of passion.” These are sudden, unexpected triggers that result in a victim’s death, such as a man who catches his partner cheating and kills her without preplanning.

A premeditated murder may be plotted in advance, while killing someone in the heat of passion occurs on the spot, without prior deliberation or planning. However, both types of homicide involve a knowing intent to kill the victim. In an Arizona homicide case, whether or not the killing of an individual was premeditated can drastically affect the penalties imposed against the defendant. 

If premeditation is proven in a homicide case, the defendant could be convicted of a Class 1 felony for first-degree or second-degree murder. These crimes can be punishable by life imprisonment or death in Arizona. If it is shown that a homicide was not premeditated, however, the charges may be reduced to manslaughter or negligent homicide, which come with shorter prison terms. Speak to a Phoenix homicide defense attorney. 

Defenses Against Premeditation Charges

To prove premeditation in a criminal case, the prosecution must present various types of evidence showing that the defendant calculated his or her actions and had motive and planning. Evidence may include documents, statements or activities that show the defendant was conspiring to commit a crime. It is the defense’s job to poke holes in the prosecutor’s case and argue against an allegation of premeditation. 

Potential defenses to premeditation charges include: 

  • Heat of passion or sudden quarrel
  • Insufficient evidence (burden of proof not met)
  • Unreliable evidence or low-quality investigation
  • Issues within the chain of evidence
  • Lack of actual intent to commit the crime
  • Lack of planning, preparation or weapons
  • Wrong defendant or mistaken identity
  • Diminished capacity or impaired mental state
  • Duress or coercion

Premeditation can play a significant role in a criminal case. If premeditation is established, this can significantly increase the penalties and consequences faced. If you are being accused of a premeditated crime, it is critical to consult with an experienced criminal defense lawyer about your defense options right away. An attorney will craft a defense strategy that is suited to your unique circumstances.

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