Prescott, AZ – Recently, in Yavapai County, at the Superior Court in Camp Verde, the so-called “sweat lodge trial” came to an end.
The government had charged James Arthur Ray, a self-help guru, with manslaughter. After a lengthy jury trial, Ray was convicted of negligent homicide.
I’m not here to discuss the fairness of the verdict because only the jurors know how they arrived at their verdict. But I am going to discuss the differences between manslaughter and negligent homicide.
First, let’s talk about what defines manslaughter. Then we’ll define negligent homicide. Then we’ll get to the difference in Arizona laws associated with the level of felony of the two separate offenses. Manslaughter is defined in several different ways, but the one that was the theory of the State’s case in the State v. Ray trial was quite simple:
A person commits manslaughter by . . . Recklessly causing the death of another person.
A.R.S. section 13-1103(A)(1).
Compare that to negligent homicide:
A person commits negligent homicide if with criminal negligence the person causes the death of another person[.]
A.R.S. section 13-1102(A).
So the major difference? “Recklessly” versus “with criminal negligence” makes the difference here.
The jury, after hearing all the admitted evidence, agreed that James Ray caused death with criminal negligence, as opposed to recklessly. So what is recklessly and what is criminal negligence? Get ready… Arizona law defines recklessly as:
“Recklessly” means, with respect to a result or to a circumstance described by a statute defining an offense, that a person is aware of and consciously disregards a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the result will occur or that the circumstance exists. The risk must be of such nature and degree that disregard of such risk constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of conduct that a reasonable person would observe in the situation. A person who creates such a risk but who is unaware of such risk solely by reason of voluntary intoxication also acts recklessly with respect to such risk.
A.R.S. section 13-105(10)(c).
Arizona law defines criminal negligence as:
“Criminal negligence” means, with respect to a result or to a circumstance described by a statute defining an offense, that a person fails to perceive a substantial and unjustifiable risk that the result will occur or that the circumstance exists. The risk must be of such nature and degree that the failure to perceive it constitutes a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable person would observe in the situation.
A.R.S. section 13-105(10)(d).
I’ll let you read and assess those differences as you see fit. When it comes to the convictions, manslaughter is a class 2 felony. Negligent homicide is a class 4 felony in Arizona. That’s the basic rundown.
I’ll plan another article with more detail on sentencing schemes and certain factors like consecutive versus concurrent terms. Other ideas, please contact me using the form at the top right. Once again, this article is not meant to take a position on the verdict, the victims, the defendant, or any of the many people involved, but to identify some of the legal differences between manslaughter and negligent homicide.