Arizona murder definition

Arizona murder definition

Postby glorifiedproofer » 1:12 am 08/22/2008

Our courts reporter and I go head to head all the time about whether or not someone is "murdered."

He claims that homicide and murder are interchangeable under Arizona law (where our paper is) and therefore can say in court stories that "Joe Doe has been charged with manslaughter in the murder of Jane Doe" even before a plea agreement or case has gone to trial and conviction.

I always change murder to death or slaying or killing or some other type of what I believe to be less libelous language. But he keeps insisting that I am changing the meaning of his stories and making them wrong.

For example this: According to court records, David Doe met John Doe, who was dressed as a woman, at a bar the night of the murder and the two left together to engage in mutual intimate physical contact.

I would change murder to slaying (or whatever) until the jury conviction or sentencing.

This problem also persists in police stories whenever they are investigating a homicide, the writer always changes it to murder (and the other writers in the newsroom do this too!). Even our editor says that we can use murder in these types of situations because the police press release says its murder! (Usually they say homicide/murder.)

Am I missing something here? In the state where I am from, the two words (homicide/murder) are not interchangeable. And I'd get fired for using the term murder until after a conviction is obtained at almost any other U.S. newspaper.

Anyone else up against a wall like this? I'm thinking about becoming a teacher because I'm sick of fighting idiots (and idiots in charge).
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Postby dfisher » 5:05 am 08/22/2008

Ask him why he's auditioning to be a bureaucrat.

Seriously, there are lots of things that are "legal" but out of civility shouldn't be done. So if he were arrested and charged with killing someone, would he like "murdered" splayed all over the place in connection with the death? After all, then no one would think he was a murderer, now would they?

I wish sometimes we could walk a mile in others' shoes to see how what we do affects them. Even just stepping out of it slightly into an academic role opens your eyes (especially when people will talk to you as a "civilian").

The arguments on another thread about whether we need "civil" lawsuit etc. because the populace is going to misinterpret things can be turned right back around on something like this. If anything was ever subject to misinterpretation and requires our vigilance ...
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Postby editer » 8:11 am 08/22/2008

I'm unaware of any state where "manslaughter" is a special case of "murder"; everywhere I've been, the former is considered less serious than the latter.

Perhaps you could ask whether "vehicular homicide" should be changed to "vehicular murder" in all cases as well.

Should "justifiable homicide" be changed to "justifiable murder"? That's a contradiction right there.

Oh, and I don't think you can escape idiots-in-charge by becoming a teacher.
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Postby MFranco » 12:12 pm 08/22/2008

If you're writing a bit of fiction or an essay or making any other type of casual reference to killing somebody, than "murder" is a sexy word to use. But if you're writing a news story where the justice system is involved, I don't think you should toss "murder" around to cover all killings. There's a reason why the justice system doesn't call every killing a "murder" and I think we should respect that.
(Many cops probably call everything "murder", but it's usually not an important part of their job to make the distinction. Once a situation is anywhere in the justice system, I think the distinction is important. Like the distinction between a few years in prison and life in prison or even execution -- which I guess could be "murder" under some folks' definition.)
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Postby glorifiedproofer » 12:47 pm 08/22/2008

The argument he makes is that Arizona has six definitions for murder (three of which are crimes): murder in the first degree, murder in the second degree, manslaughter (involuntary or otherwise); justifiable homicide and excusable homicide. Since this person was killed in a cruel fashion (stabbed, mutilated, etc.) most of the public has already decried it as a "murder." But from what I've read about Arizona law, only murder 1 and murder 2 are considered criminal homicide. Manslaughter (which this guy took in a plea deal and was sentenced yesterday) is not murder... at least this is how I am reading it. Everyone says I'm splitting hairs and to just leave it be...
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Postby Powderhorn » 2:07 pm 08/22/2008

glorifiedproofer wrote:The argument he makes is that Arizona has six definitions for murder (three of which are crimes): murder in the first degree, murder in the second degree, manslaughter (involuntary or otherwise); justifiable homicide and excusable homicide. Since this person was killed in a cruel fashion (stabbed, mutilated, etc.) most of the public has already decried it as a "murder." But from what I've read about Arizona law, only murder 1 and murder 2 are considered criminal homicide. Manslaughter (which this guy took in a plea deal and was sentenced yesterday) is not murder... at least this is how I am reading it. Everyone says I'm splitting hairs and to just leave it be...


Sheriff Joe would probably be happy to have everything called murder, but that doesn't make it so. It's not so much splitting hairs as it is rolling dice on a libel suit. The odds are low, but each time you roll those dice ...
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Postby Gerri Berendzen » 4:11 pm 08/22/2008

I'm not a slave to the AP Stylebook, but I think in this case it's clearly right. Manslaughter and murder aren't the same thing.
Why don't you show them that entry?
This is the square and rectangle argument ... not all homicides are murders. Let's forget the fact that it's a bad idea to be throwing around the term murder before there's a conviction. If the guy was charged with manslaughter, that's not the same charge as murder. I don't think that's a case of being too picky. It's a case of you wanting the stories to be accurate.
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Postby editer » 10:47 am 08/23/2008

glorifiedproofer wrote:The argument he makes is that Arizona has six definitions for murder (three of which are crimes): murder in the first degree, murder in the second degree, manslaughter (involuntary or otherwise); justifiable homicide and excusable homicide.


From the actual law in question, §13-1101:

2. "Homicide" means first degree murder, second degree murder, manslaughter or negligent homicide.


That's four crimes, not three, all of which are classified as homicides; only two of them are murder. Your courts reporter needs to brush up.
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Postby dangermike » 4:48 pm 08/23/2008

I was going to post the statutes, too, but Editer beat me to it. Bottom line: Your reporter is wrong. For some reason, reporters and city editors love the word "murder," and will try to use it as often as they can. Keep changing it.

As dfisher pointed out, it's unfair to use "murder" in this way, but it's also potentially inaccurate. Many homicides end up being justified. Many are simply negligent. Hardly "murder."

No, keep changing it.
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