What is the Crime of Discharging a Firearm at a Structure?

A.R.S. § 13-1211 makes it illegal to fire a gun at a structure, either a commercial or residential structure, regardless of whether the building is occupied or not. In addition to buildings, this law also applies to other types of “structures” defined by law, such as cars. This is similar to the crime of “drive by shooting,” although the person firing the gun does not need to be in car or other vehicle for the law to apply.

Discharging a firearm at a residential structure is a class 2 felony. This is one of the most serious types of felonies and shows how seriously Arizona views this crime. Firing a gun at a nonresidential structure is a class 3 felony–also, a very serious crime.

A.R.S. § 13-1211 Defined

ARS 13-1211, is defined relatively simply and states the following:

  • “A person who knowingly discharges a firearm at a residential structure is guilty of a class 2 felony.”
  • “A person who knowingly discharges a firearm at a nonresidential structure is guilty of a class 3 felony.”

Let’s break this definition down:

“Structure”

This is defined as “any building, vehicle, railroad car or place with sides and a floor that is separately securable from any other structure attached to it and that is being used for lodging, business or transportation.”

“Residential Structure”

This mean “a movable or immovable or permanent or temporary structure that is adapted for both human residence or lodging.”

Note: The definition includes permanent structures as well as temporary and movable structures. This encompasses more than just a traditional house or apartment. It would also include things like mobile homes or trailers if they are “adapted for human residence.”

“Nonresidential Structure”

This is any structure other than a residential structure.

Penalties for Discharging a Firearm at a Structure

The penalties for a violation of ARS 13-1211 depends on whether it is charged as a class 2 felony or a class 3 felony, and also how many prior felony convictions the defendant has.

Criminal penalties for a class 2 felony include:

  • No prior convictions: Probation or 3 to 12.5 years in prison.
  • 1 prior felony: 4.5 to 23 years in prison
  • 2+ prior felonies: 10.5 to 35 years in prison

Criminal penalties for a class 3 felony include:

  • No prior convictions: Probation or 2 to 8.75 years in prison.
  • 1 prior felony: 3.25 to 16.25 years in prison
  • 2+ prior felonies: 7.5 to 25 years in prison

Defenses to Discharging a Firearm at a Structure

  • Accident: Even if it is not disputed that the defendant fired a gun at a structure, there is a still a possible defense to this charge if the act was not done “knowingly.” To act knowingly is to either act with the intent to commit the conduct or knowing that circumstances are such that the conduct will occur. If a person pulls a trigger on a gun and the gun is pointed at a structure, then the person knows that the gun will go off. However, a person may also act merely “recklessly” or with “criminal negligence.” In these cases, a person may accidentally discharge the firearm not intending to. This could occur if somebody was recklessly running with a gun, trips, and the gun accidentally goes off and hits a structure. The person may not have been reckless in carelessly running with a gun, but he did not know that he was going to trip and cause the gun to discharge. This may constitute another type of crime, potentially endangerment or unlawful discharge of a firearm, but because the person lacked the required criminal intent, he would not be guilty of discharging a firearm at a structure. This could have a very significant impact on the defendant’s case because both endangerment and unlawful discharge are punished less severely than discharging a firearm at a structure.

Example: A gun owner is in his backyard cleaning his rifle. He is negligent in how he is handling the gun and it accidentally goes off and hits his neighbor’s house. The gun owner did not act knowing that his gun would go off when he was cleaning it. But he should probably have been using more caution when handling the gun. Therefore, while he may not be guilty of discharging a firearm at a structure, he could be charged with unlawful discharge of a firearm, which occurs whenever a person discharges a firearm in city limits through their criminally negligent (careless) acts. The important difference is that discharging a firearm at a residential structure is a class 2 felony, but unlawful discharge is a class 6 felony and therefore subject to a significantly lighter penalty and may even be designated a misdemeanor.

  • Insufficient Evidence/ Constitutional Violations: As in other cases, the state may also simply lack sufficient evidence to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. There may be issues with the identification of the defendant, there may not be any reliable witnesses to the crime, or there may be constitutional issues such as violation of the Defendant’s 4th or 5th Amendment rights.

How Salwin Law Group Can Help You

If you have been charged under ARS 13-1211, an experienced defense attorney can help. We offer free consultation and can discuss your case with you today. Together we can help you get your life back.

Call Salwin Law Group PLLC today at (480) 470-6119, or contact us online to make your appointment.