Lawyers, I need a question answered

It’s pretty dumb question, but I’m a newb when it comes to law.
Anyway :: BACKSTORY ::
I was watching TV last night, to be more presice… “Law and Order” was the fish of the day… I happen to like cop shows… I see it as the more “intelligent” TV… now when ever theres a crime commited on these shows they start talking about “Murder one” “Murder two” etc.

Exactly what are these things? Scores? Isn’t Murder… just that? Murder?

I guess what I’m asking is… What does it mean when they say “Murder one” or “Murder in the first degree”

(oh, and what is it with that detective on Law and Order: Criminal Intent? does he suffer from autism or just a bad case of the jitters?)

It’s going to vary between jurisdictions.

For starts, yes, Murder One means “Murder in the First Degree.”

In some areas, that’s reserved for capital crimes and ones that involved torture or rape; in others, what constitutes Murder two constitutes Murder One in others.

Is there some reason why you’re asking? ;)

Just wanna know in case these violent video games I play make me flip and and go craaa-aazy




Oh, well, in that case, keep in mind the following:

If there’s no evidence, it never happened.

Consider shaving your entire body before the act, wear latex gloves, buy a pair of shoes that are extremely popular, and remember, the element of surprise is your best friend.

Good luck, my fellow nutbag.

And give a holler to OJ if you need further instructions :twisted:

Typically, 1st degree murder is premeditaded murder. In other words, you went into the situation with the intent of killing. In some places, murder that occurs while in commission of another crime is also first degree murder. For example, if you rob a bank with a gun and on your way out you shoot a guard who tries to tackle you, that may be first degree murder. You didn’t go there with the intent to kill, but you killed in connection with your crime so it’s considered “premeditated”. (this was applied here in Nebraska where a man mugged a woman by hitting her on the head with a brick and taking her purse. She died of her injuries. The defendant claimed that he only wanted to stun her or knock her out and didn’t mean to kill her. He was still convicted of first degree murder since the commission of the mugging itself was planned and the victim wasn’t chosen at random).

2nd degree murder is usually when you went into a sitation without the intent to kill. Lets say you went to your girlfriends house and she broke up with you. In a fit of rage, you grabbed a knife and killed her. In most places, that’s second degree. Here is where it gets tricky… lets say you had a gun in your car. You went out to your car, got the gun, and came back into the house to shoot her. Some states that’s first degree. In others it’s still second degree.

In the end, it’s really dependant on your state/county. In most places though, it has to do with your intent and your state of mind when the event occurred.

Generally murder (of any degree) involves premeditation and certainly intent. If it’s not premeditated and intentional, it’s manslaughter, not murder. The key difference (in every jurisdiction) between manslaughter and murder is that murder involves intent, while manslaughter is one of only a handful of criminal offences (criminal negligence being another) that don’t involve intent.

In general, in order to be convicted of a criminal offense, you have to have both (a) done the act of the crime, and (b) had the mental intention to commit the crime “mens rea”. While that may make sense on paper, it’s resulted in all sorts of goofy defences getting legitimacy, such as “non-medical automatism”, or “sleepwalking” – lots of ridiculous things convince the average jury of morons that the person who committed the crime didn’t have the requisite intention to commit the crime because he/she was dozing/sleepwalking/drunk/under mental distress/historically abused, etc. All goofy.

In some jurisdictions, as Jim indicated, you can be convicted of murder of a lesser degree even if you didn’t have the requisite intent to kill someone - provided that you had the intent to commit another crime (and someone got killed as a result). Many jurisdictions, however, have held that sort of “transferred intent” to violate the Bill of Rights or local equivalent.

In California, as in many American jurisdictions, first-degree murder is premeditated, just as Stefan said (“with malice aforethought” is the way the law describes it, in that “We sound smart because we use old-timey words” way). Jim’s went-back-to-get-the-gun example is clearly first-degree murder. Even his grabbed-a-knife-and-stabbed-her example is potentially first-degree; it’d be up to a jury to decide whether the murderer acted in a fit of unthinking rage (second-degree murder) or whether, even for a nanosecond, he thought to himself “I’m going to grab this knife and kill her” (first). Manslaughter in CA, and most American states, is also exactly what Stefan said–a negligent killing, such as a reckless auto accident or shooting someone with a gun you thought was unloaded.

California has two big exceptions to those general rules, though. The first is first-degree “implied malice” murder–defined in CA law, rather poetically, as a murder committed unintentionally but with “an abandoned and malignant heart.” Shooting up a house without knowing whether anyone is inside would be a good example.

The other big–and I mean BIG–exception is the felony-murder rule, which others have alluded to above. In CA, unlike the jurisdictions Stefan was discussing, felony-murder is first-degree. Also, you can get it when ANYBODY (except your accomplice) dies as a result of your intended crime. The classic “whoa” example: Stefan is walking down a dark alley, when Ben Sones the mugger accosts him. Ben has no weapons, but holds his finger in his jacket as if it’s a gun. Stefan is reaching for his wallet when Rywill, the valiant (but myopic) passer-by, sees what’s happening. Rywill happens to have a gun on him, and pulls it out and starts shooting at Ben. But Rywill is a terrible shot, and totally misses Ben, hitting Stefan instead, killing him. Guess who just committed first-degree murder? That’s right, Ben did. The idea is that criminals know their crimes have a good chance of leading to violence of one kind or another, so anyone who decides to mug someone is pretty much doing it with the knowledge that if things go south, somebody might get killed. And that’s premeditation and intent enough, as far as CA is concerned.

In addition to the first vs. second and manslaughter distinctions, most states (including CA) have aggravated murder laws (they’re called “special circumstances murder” here), usually resulting in a possible death penalty. For example, in CA, murder by torture, poison, or lying in wait (ambush) are all special-circumstances murders, if the DA charges them that way. So are multiple-victim murders.

It wasn’t my finger.

Yeah, good explanation. It’s that type of murder, “felony murders”, or killing while committing another crime, that’s been held to be unconstitutional in Canada and other jurisdictions, because the criminal didn’t have the requisite intent. You can understand why through Rywill’s example, unless Sones isn’t using his finger, in which case it’s a capital offence and, like Cobra, I am the law.

What kills me (well, not literally) is that the penalties are significantly reduced for attempted murder.

You MEANT to kill someone, but they survived, or you screwed it up, so your sentence is reduced? That’s just, as the kids say, wack.

You know what’s even funnier about attempted murder (which, in my experience, is a comedy goldmine)? It’s what’s called a “specific intent” crime, meaning that you had to intend to commit the criminal act in order to be convicted. If you almost kill someone, but didn’t intend to kill them, that’s never attempted murder (which, in a way, makes sense–you DIDN’T attempt to murder anyone). It’s battery, or whatever else applies.

The funny part is that felony-murder and implied malice murder are both general intent crimes, meaning you just have to intend to commit the acts, but not to kill someone. Result? Let’s say Ben decides to drive that fly Mustang he owns down the street at 100 MPH with his eyes closed, as an experiment to see whether he’s Force-sensitive. He runs a red and slams into a bus full of nuns. Or children. Child-nuns, let’s say. If a victim dies, Ben is probably guilty of first-degree murder (implied malice). But if they live, it’s not attempted first-degree murder, it’s just battery. Another example: Ben is sick of the high-and-mighty attitude all those child-nuns have, so he grabs his gun and points it at one of them, intending to scare them into giving up their faith. But the gun accidentally goes off. Hit 'em in the head, murder (felony-murder during an assault). Hit 'em in the arm, not attempted murder, just battery.

As Ben would say, cue calliope music!

Actually, this also brings up a serious point for discussion. I’ve never been sure quite how I feel about this issue. Should the law punish results, or intents, or try to come to some kind of compromise? Should attempting to kill someone always have the same penalty, regardless of whether you succeed or not?

I tend to think results should matter, but I can definitely see the argument Denny is making.

OTOH, I believe in Alabama, killing a lawyer only gets you community service.

Same in CA. Justifiable homicide.

What I’ve deduced from this thread is that we should pre-emptively lock Ben up.

My work is done.

Sort of like closing the barn door after the horse has gunned down a family of seven with an AK-47.

Actually, in Canada at least, the penalties are identical.

Are they really? I didn’t know that. So what’s your take on the whole situation, Stefan–Canadian system better, or American, and why? (Just on this one issue)