“Knowing” vs. “Reckless” Murder in Arizona Criminal Cases

In the criminal context, the defendant’s mental state when committing a murder is important. In Arizona, courts differentiate between a murder that was “knowing or intentional,” and “reckless.” A recent case before the Arizona Court of Appeals, Division Two, highlights the important differences between both categories – the difference, for better or for worse, can end up having a major impact on the outcome of a case.

Knowing or Intentional

In Arizona, a person committing a murder “knowingly” is aware of his conduct; that is, he is aware that he is murdering a person as he commits he crime. He is “intentional” when his goal is to murder. In general, a person that knowingly or intentionally murders another is subject to higher penalties and longer sentences than one who commits a murder recklessly.


A reckless killing, on the other hand, happens when a defendant “is aware of and consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk.” In other words, the defendant is smart enough to know what he is doing is risky, but he presses on and does it anyway. A defendant would rather a jury find that he committed a murder recklessly than knowingly or intentionally, given that it would result in a lighter penalties and shorter sentences.

April 2024 Case

In the case before the appellate court, the defendant argued that when a jury found he acted knowingly or intentionally in murdering a victim, the jury could have just as easily determined that he acted recklessly instead. According to the defendant, if the trial court had properly instructed the jury members about the difference between the two standards, they might have returned a more favorable verdict.

The facts of the case, concluded the court, did not support a reckless mindset. The defendant deliberately pointed his gun at the victim when the victim almost hit the defendant’s car. The defendant stopped his truck, picked up his weapon, and aimed at the victim. He fired one round into the victim’s tire and five more rounds into the victim’s body. These actions all supported the theory that the defendant knowingly, not recklessly, killed the victim in this case. Therefore, a lesser conviction would not have been appropriate, and verdict was reasonable.

With that, the defendant’s guilty conviction was affirmed.

Do You Need a Phoenix Violent Crimes Attorney in Your Corner?

Unfortunately, the legal landscape for violent crimes in Arizona can be tough to navigate. At the Law Office of James E. Novak, we stay up to date on the nuances of criminal law in order to serve our clients to the best of our ability. We are dedicated to helping defendants further understand their rights under the law, and we are committed to building a strong defense for our clients when they need it the most. For a free and confidential consultation with an expert Phoenix violent crimes attorney, give us a call today at 480-413-1499. You can also fill out our online form to tell us about your case and have a member of our team get back in touch with you as soon as possible.

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