Many states have their own specific rules about the death penalty, such as whether it is implemented and the method of punishment. In this blog, we will go into more detail about Arizona’s capital punishment laws, more specifically what crimes would warrant the death penalty and the history of capital punishment in the state.
What Crimes Could Warrant the Death Penalty?
In Arizona, the death penalty may be sought only in crimes of first-degree premeditated murder or felony murder. Arizona’s felony murder rule allows the prosecution of an individual for murder if the death occurs during the commission of certain crimes, such as arson, kidnapping, robbery, sexual assault, and child molestation. As a result, all perpetrators involved in the crime may be charged with capital murder even if only one person allegedly commits the homicide. The method of capital punishment in Arizona is lethal injection.
For an individual to be sentenced to death, in addition to the murder conviction itself, the court must find proof of aggravating circumstances and determine that the sentence is the most appropriate punishment under those circumstances. Note that the defendant must be at least 15 years of age for the state to legally seek the death penalty.
Some aggravating circumstances for capital murder include:
- a prior conviction for which a sentence of life imprisonment or death was imposable;
- a prior serious offense involving the use or threat of violence;
- the knowing creation of a grave risk of death to others outside of the victim;
- procurement of the commission of murder by payment or promise of payment;
- murder committed in an especially heinous, cruel, or depraved manner;
- murder committed while in the custody of the State Department of Corrections, law enforcement agency, or jail;
- previous capital conviction or multiple homicides;
- murder of a victim under 15 years of age or of a victim 70 years of age or older; and
- the knowing murder of a law enforcement officer.
The History of Capital Punishment in Arizona
Capital punishment, more commonly referred to as the death penalty, is reserved for the most serious murder charges and is, still today, a polarizing legal issue where each state makes its own laws concerning the sentence.
Arizona first carried out executions by hanging in 1910 before the method was changed to execution by lethal gas in 1934. The U.S. Supreme Court established in 1972 that the death penalty as administered violated the United States Constitution Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. A majority of the court found that the sentencing authority was not adequately guided when imposing the death penalty. As a result, in 1973, the Arizona Legislature enacted A.R.S. § 13-454, setting forth a new procedure for death penalty cases. The new statute provided for a separate sentencing hearing to be held before the trial court, rather than a jury, and enumerated the six aggravating circumstances mentioned earlier that could be considered in deciding whether to impose a death sentence.
In November of 1992, Arizona voters approved execution by lethal injection. Any person who committed a crime prior to November 23, 1992 and was sentenced to death may choose execution by lethal gas or lethal injection. In 2014, the Arizona death penalty again sparked controversy when a convicted individual’s executioners allegedly injected him with 15 times the standard dose of a sedative and a painkiller during a procedure that lasted nearly 2 hours before the client was declared dead. Since then, the debate over the death penalty has surfaced once again and prompted Arizona’s attorney general to order a temporary halt to executions in the state. Capital punishment is, though, still technically possible for certain crimes as of today.
Questions? Contact Bowman, Smith & Kallen, P.L.L.C.
If you have specific questions or concerns about the capital punishment rules in Arizona, do not hesitate to reach out to Bowman, Smith & Kallen, P.L.L.C. for legal guidance. Our legal team can provide you the legal counsel you need, especially if you fear you may be charged with capital punishment or if you have a qualifying crime.