Homicide

Today we’ll be discussing Homicide in USA, UK e.tc. which means killing one human being by another, which is one of the most serious crimes. The Anglo-American codes classified homicides into two or more separate crimes, each crime carrying its own penalty, which can be varied within limits by the sentencing authority. Thus, murder is a homicide committed intentionally or as a result of the commission of another serious offence.

The crime of manslaughter includes killings that are the result of recklessness or a violent emotional outburst, as might result from provocation. Penalties for murder may include capital punishment or life imprisonment, whereas the penalty for manslaughter is usually a maximum number of years in prison.

However, once a person was shown to have caused the death of a human being, he was guilty of a crime even though he did not intend or foresee death as the result of his conduct. With the development of the doctrine of mens rea, it became possible to distinguish between lawful and unlawful homicide and there came into existence different degrees of liability for unlawful homicide.

What is murder? – Homicide

Under the common law (law originating from custom and court decisions rather than status), murder was an intentional killing that was:

  1. Unlawful (in other words, not legally justified),anf
  2. Committed with “malice aforethough)”.

Malice aforethought doesn’t mean that a killer has to have acted out of spite or hate. It exists if a defendant intends to kill someone without legal justification or excuse. In addition, in most states, malice aforethought isn’t limited to intentional killings. It can also exist if the killer:

  1. Intentionally inflicts serious bodily harm that causes the victim’s death, or
  2. Behaves in a way that shows extreme, reckless disregard for life and results in the victim’s deathe.

In today’s society, murder is defined by statue rather than common law. Though today’s statues derive it’s sources from common law, one has to look to these statues for important distinctions-like the difference between first – and second-degree murder.

First-Degree Murder Vs. Second-Degree Murder

Even within the universe of those who kill with malice aforethought, the law regards some as more dangerous and morally blameworthy than oothers. First-degree murder applies to those defendants. Killings involving malice that don’t amount to first-degree murder tend to constitute second-degree murder.

The rules vary somewhat from state to state as to what circumstances make an intentional killing first-degree murder, but the following circumstances commonly do so:

The killing is deliberate and premeditated. In other words, the accused person has formed the intent to kill and has had time, however brief, to reflect on the matter. An obvious example of premeditation is a wife going to the store, buying a lethal dose of rat poison, and putting it in her husband’s tea.

The killing occurs during the course of a dangerous felony. This crime is often known as “felony murder”. Someone can be guilty of murder if a death occurs during the course of a dangerous felony, even if the person is not the killer. In most states, the death must be a foreseeable result of the initial felony. For example, assume that Aaron commits arson by setting a house on fire. Chris, a firefighter, dies while attempting to douse the burning building. Here, Aaron would be guilty of felony murder because a death occured in the course of a dangerous felony, and the death was a foreseeable result of the defendant’s actions. (Aaron might also be guilty of old-fashioned murder on the theory that he acted with malice aforethought).

In most states, a defendant who didn’t directly cause the death of an accomplice isn’t automatically criminally liable for that death. Suppose, for example, that Bill and Janice burglarize a house. As they attempt to flee with the loot, a police officer shoots and kills Janice. Bill might not be guilty of first-degree murder, even though a death occurred in the course of a dangerous felony. (See Com. V. Redline, 391 Pa. 486 (1958.)

The killer users an explosive device, such as a bomb. In California, for instance, the statute defining first-degree murder specifies several ways in which the crime can occur. In parts, it states. “All murder which is perpetrated by means of a destructive device or explosive…or by any other kind of willful, deliberate, and premeditated killing…is murder of the first degree”. (Cal. Penal Code S189 (2021).

Punishment for Murder

Many states have mandatory minimum sentences for murder. The mandatory minimum for first-degree murder is almost always higher than that of second-degree murder. Defendants convicted of first-degree murder can also be eligible for the death penalty. Many states and the federal government still have the death penalty. In those that do not, the maximum penalty is life in prison without the possibility of parole (LWOP). Defendants convicted of second-degree murder are often sentenced to a term of years rather than life in prison and are often eligible for parole.

Manslaughter

Manslaughter is a form of homicide in which the person whomcommits the homicide either does not intent to kill the victim, or kill the victim as the result of circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to become emotionally or mentally disturbed to the point of potentially losing control of their actions. The distinction between murder and manslaughter is sometimes said to have been made by the ancients Athenians lawmaker Draco in the 7th century BC.

The penalty for manslaughter is normally less than the penalty for murder. The two broad categories of manslaughter are:

  1. Voluntary manslaughter: The intentional, unpremeditated killing of another person as the result of a disturbed state of mind, or heat of passion.
  2. Involuntary manslaughter: The unintentional killing of another person through an act of recklessness that shows indifference to the lives and safety of others, or an act of negligence that could reasonably be foreseen to result in death. The act that results in death may be intentional, such as pushing somebody in anger, but their death (such as by their subsequently falling, striking their head, and suffering a lethal head injury) is not.

Another form of manslaughter in some jurisdictions is constructive manslaughter, which may be charged if a person causes a death without intention but as the result of violating an important safety law or regulation.

Lawful excuse

Not all homicides are crimes, or subject to criminal prosecution. Some are legally privileged, meaning that they are not criminal acts at all. Others may occur under circumstances that provide the defendant with a full or partial defense to criminal prosecution. Common defenses includes:

  1. Self-defense: While most homicides by civilians are criminally indictable, a right of self-defense (often including the right to defend others) is widely recognized, including, in dire circumstances, the use of deadly force.
  2. Mental incapacity: A defendant may attempt to prove that they are not criminally responsible for a homicide due to a mental disorder or illness. In some jurisdictions, mentally incompetent killers may be involuntarily committed in lieu of criminal trial. Mental health and development are often taken into account during sentencing. For example, in the United States, the death penalty cannot be applied to convicted murderers with intellectual disabilities.
  3. Defense of infancy: Small children are not held criminally liable before the age of criminal responsibility. A juvenile court may handle defendants above this age but below the legal age of majority, though because homicide is a serious crime some older minors are charged in an adult system. Age is sometimes also taken into account during sentencing even if the perpetrator is old enough to have criminal responsibility.
  4. Justifiable homicide or privilege’s: Due to the circumstances, although a homicide occurs, the act of killing is not unlawful. For example, a killing on the battlefield during war is normally lawful, or a police officer may shoot a dangerous suspect in order to protect the officer’s own life or the lives and safety of others.
Murder in English law (England & Wales)

Murder is an offence under the Common law of England and Wales. It is considered the most serious form of homicide, in which one person kills another with the intention to cause either death or serious injury unlawfully. Th element of intentionality was originally termed malice aforethought, although it required neither malice nor premeditation. Baker (Glanville Williams textbook of Criminal Law, London: Sweet & Maxwell, 2015), chapter 14 states that many killings done with a high degree of subjective recklessness were treated as murder from the 12th century right through until the 1974 decision in DPP V. Hyam.

Because murder is generally defined in law as an intent to cause serios harm or injury (alone or with others), combined with a death arising from that intention, there are certain circumstances where a death will be treated as murder even if the defendant did not wish to kill the actual victim. This is called “transferred malice). and arises in two common cases:

  1. The defendant intended serious harm to one or more persons, but an unintended other person dies as aresult;
  2. Several people share an intent to do serious harm, and the victim dies because of the action of any of those involved (for example, if another person goes “further than expected” or performs an unexpectedly lethal action).

However, murder is defined, at common law rather than by statute, as the unlawful killing of a reasonable person in being under the King or queen’s peace with malice “aforethought express or implied.

Actus reus

The actus reus (Latin for ‘guilty act‘) of murder was defined in common law by Coke:

Murder is when a man of sound memory and of age of discretion, unlawfully killeth within any county of the realm any reasonable creature in rerum natura under the King’s peace, with malice aforethought, either expressed by the party or implied by law, so as the party wounded, or hurt, etc. die of the wound or hurt, etc. within a year and a day of the same.

The latter clause (known as the ‘year and a day rule’) was abolished in 1996.

A further historic rule, the felony murder rule, was abolished in the Homicide Act 1957. Until abolition, the effect of this rule had been to create murder offences in two cases: when manslaughter occurs during the course of a crime it could in certain cases be automatically reclassified by law as murder, and that any deaths resulting from acts of a criminal during the crime could cause culpability as murder on the part of all his or her fellow criminals. The effect of this rule is partly retained despite abolition, since intent to kill is not necessary -intent (including common intent) to cause serious injury is sufficient for murder if death results.

Mens rea (intention)

The mens rea (Latin for ‘guilty mind’) of murder is either an intention to kill (per the 2004 binding case of R V. Mathews & Alleyne) or an intention to cause grievous bodily harm (R V. Moloney, R V. Hancock & Shankland, and R V. Woollin). In Moloney, Lord Bridge was clear that, for the defendant to have the mens rea of murder, there must be something more than mere foresight or knowledge that death or serious injury is a “natural” consequence of the current activities: there must be clear evidence of an intention.

However, This intention is proved not only when the defendant’s motive or purpose is to kill or cause grievous bodily harm (direct intent), but when death or grievous bodily harm is a virtually certain consequence of the defendant’s act (indirect or ‘oblique’ intent). Also in Moloney, Lord Bridge held that mens rea of murder need not be aimed at a specific person so, if a terrorist plants a bomb in a public place, it is irrelevant that no specific individual is targeted so long as one or more deaths is virtually certain. It is irrelevant that the terrorist might claim justification for the act through a political agenda. How or why one person kills could only have relevance to the sentence.

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