Murder

Homicide

Homicide is killing the one human being by another.  Murder and manslaughter are types of homicides. A homicide can be lawful or unlawful. If a defendant kills with a legally valid excuse or justification, that killing is lawful and he or she has not committed a crime. If there is no legally valid excuse or justification, that killing is unlawful and, depending on the circumstances, the defendant is guilty of either murder or manslaughter.

Murder

A defendant commits murder when: the defendant committed an act that caused the death of another person; and when the defendant acted, he or she had a state of mind called malice aforethought.

There are two kinds of malice aforethought, expressed malice and implied malice. Proof of either is sufficient to establish the state of mind required for murder.

A defendant acts with expressed malice if he or she unlawfully intended to kill. A defendant acts with implied malice if: he or she intentionally committed an act; the natural and probable consequences of the act were dangerous to human life; at the time he or she acted, he or she knew his or her act was dangerous to human life; and he or she deliberately acted with conscious disregard for human life.

Malice aforethought does not require hatred or ill will toward the victim. It is a mental state that must be formed before the act that causes death was committed. It does not require deliberation or the passage of any particular period of time.

A defendant is guilty of first-degree murder if he or she acted willfully, deliberately, and with premeditation. A defendant acts willfully if he or she intends to kill. A defendant acts deliberately if he or she carefully weighs and considers for and against his or her choice and, knowing the consequences decides to kill. A defendant acts with premeditation if he or she decides to kill before completing the act that causes death.

The length of time a person spent considering whether to kill does not alone determine whether the killing is deliberate and premeditated. The amount of time required for deliberation and premeditation may vary from person to person and according to the circumstances. A decision to kill made rashly, impulsively, or without careful consideration is not deliberate and premeditated. On the other hand, a cold, calculated decision to kill can be reached quickly. The test is the extent of the reflection, not the length of time.

Justifications and Excuses to Homicide

A defendant is not guilty of murder or manslaughter if he or she was justified in killing someone in self-defense or in defense of another. A defendant acts in lawful self-defense or defense of another if he or she reasonably believed that he or she, or someone else, was in imminent danger of being killed or suffering great bodily injury; the person reasonably believed that the imminent use of deadly force was necessary to defend against that danger; and the defendant used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against that danger.

Belief in future harm is not sufficient, no matter how great or how likely the harm is believed to be. The defendant must have believed there was imminent danger of death or great bodily injury to himself or herself or someone else. The defendant’s belief must have been reasonable and he or she must have acted only because of that belief. Additionally, the defendant is only entitled to use that amount of force that any reasonable person would believe is necessary in the same situation. If the defendant used more force than was reasonable, the killing is not justified.

When deciding whether the defendant’s beliefs were reasonable, the jury must consider all the circumstances as they were known to and appeared to the defendant and consider what a reasonable person in a similar situation with similar knowledge would believe. If the defendant’s beliefs were reasonable, the danger did not need to have actually existed.

When a defendant raises the defense of self-defense or defense of another, the government has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the killing was not justified.

Defending Against Harm to Person Within Home or on Property

A defendant is not guilty of murder or manslaughter if he or she killed in order to defend himself or herself or any other person in the defendant's home. Such a killing is justified, and therefore not unlawful, if: the defendant reasonably be believed that he or she was defending a home against the perpetrator, who intended to or tried to commit a forcible and atrocious crime, or who violently tried to enter that home intending to commit an act of violence against someone inside; the defendant reasonably believed that the danger was imminent; the defendant reasonably believed that the use of deadly force was necessary to defend against the danger; and the defendant used no more force than was reasonably necessary to defend against the danger.

No matter how great or how likely the harm is believed to be. The defendant must have believed there was imminent danger of violence to himself, herself, or someone else. The defendant’s belief must have been reasonable and he or she must have acted only because of that belief. The defendant is only entitled to use that amount of force that a reasonable person would believe is necessary in the same situation. If the defendant used more force than was reasonable, then the killing was not justified.

When deciding whether the defendant's beliefs were reasonable, the jury is to consider all the circumstances as they were known to and appeared to the defendant and consider what a reasonable person in a similar situation with similar knowledge would have believed. If the defendants beliefs are reasonable, the danger does not need to have actually existed.

When a defendant raises the defense of killing to prevent harm to a person within his home, the government has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the killing was not justified.

Excusable Homicide

A defendant is not guilty of murder or manslaughter if he or she killed someone by accident while acting in the heat of passion. Such a killing is excused, and therefore not unlawful, if, at the time of the killing: the defendant acted in the heat of passion; the defendant was suddenly provoked by the decedent, or suddenly drawn into combat by the decedent; the defendant did not take undue advantage of the decedent; the defendant did not use a dangerous weapon; the defendant did not kill the decedent any cruel or unusual way; the defendant did not intend to kill the decedent and did not act with conscious disregard of the danger to human life; and the defendant did not act with criminal negligence.

A person acts in the heat of passion when he or she is provoked into doing a rash act under the influence of intense emotion that obscures his or her reasoning or judgment. The provocation must be sufficient to have caused a person of average disposition to act rationally and without due deliberation, that is, from passion rather than from judgment.

Heat of passion does not require anger, rage, or any specific emotion. It can be any violent or intense emotion that causes a person to act without due deliberation and reflection.

In order for the killing to be excused on this basis, the defendant must have acted under the direct and immediate influence of provocation. While no specific type of provocation is required, slight or remote provocation is not sufficient. Sufficient provocation may occur over a short or long period of time.

It is not enough that the defendant simply was provoked. The defendant is not allowed to set up his or her own standard of conduct. The jury must decide whether the defendant was provoked and whether the provocation was sufficient. In deciding whether the provocation was sufficient, the jury must consider whether a person of average disposition, in the same situation and knowing the same facts, would have reacted from passion rather than from judgment.

Criminal negligence involves more than ordinary carelessness, inattention, or mistake in judgment. A person acts with criminal negligence when: he or she acts in a way that creates a high risk of death or great bodily injury; any reasonable person would have known that acting in that way would create such a risk. In other words, a person acts with criminal negligence when the way he or she acts is so different from how an ordinarily careful person would act in the same situation that his or her act amounts to disregard for human life or indifference to the consequences of that act.

When a defendant raises the defense of excusable homicide resulting from heat of passion, the government has the burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the killing was not excused.

This web site is designed for general information only. The information presented at this site should not be construed to be formal legal advice nor the formation of an attorney-client relationship.
These results are not meant to predict or guarantee a particular result in your case.

 

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