Wednesday, September 10, 2014

101 Things

An Author Needs to Know

About the Police and the Law

Manslaughter vs Murder

 Manslaughter is the killing of a human being without malice, without premeditation, and without legal excuse.   In a nutshell it is the taking of a life by culpable negligence but without the specific intent to cause death.  A good example of that is when a person drives their vehicle recklessly and gets into a car crash that kills someone.  Picture this; one day you are driving in a careful, lawful manner, and a street light falls on your car smashing your windshield.  This causes you to brake hard and perhaps swerve or fishtail in your efforts to stop the car.  You car impacts  another vehicle and as a result the driver of that car is killed.  You are not guilty of manslaughter.  That is an unfortunate accident with fatalities.

Manslaughter differs from murder in that evil intent (malice) and premeditation are the essence of murder.   A woman discovers her husband is cheating and decides to put poison in his beer.  We have evil intent and premeditation. Not that he didn't deserve it of course.  It is interesting to note that the law does not fix an exact time period that must pass between the formation of the premeditated intent to the actual killing.  It could happen over months, or it could happen in a matter of minutes, but the period of time must be long enough to allow for reflection of the action.  So let's say neighbors are arguing about the dog peeing on the lawn.  It starts with words, it escalates to a heated  argument.  One man flips out, grabs a rake, and smashes his neighbor's head with it, killing the neighbor.  There's no premeditation there.  Also the law deals with human beings only.  You can kill a dog, but you can't murder a dog.

Everyone has a duty to act reasonably towards others in our society.  If there is a violation of that duty, without conscious intention to cause harm, that violation is considered negligent.   In order for negligence to be culpable it must be gross and flagrant, a course of conduct showing reckless disregard to human life or the safety of persons.  Shooting guns on the 4th of July in the backyard.  Stupid.  And grossly negligent.  When someone gets hit, that is culpable negligence.


Chris said...

Just to be clear, Jody, you're saying that it's premeditation that makes the difference between manslaughter and murder? So in your 'neighbours arguing about the soggy lawn' scenario, the man who whacked his neighbour over the head with the rake isn't guilty of murder because he acted on impulse and the attack wasn't premeditated? That can't be right, surely? He picked up a weapon in order to inflict harm with no thought or care as to how bad it might be. It might have been impulsive rather than planned but the intent was the same. The timespan may give him no time to reflect on what he's doing but an aggressive, knee-jerk reaction that results in death is still murder, surely? Swap the rake for a gun...

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Chris. No, my scenario is correct. Him picking up the weapon, any weapon.. a rock, a gun, a rake...on impulse and whacking the guy with it was not premeditated. It was done in the heat of the moment. It was gross negligence as he should have known the weapon could cause serious harm. Maybe he didn't mean to kill him, just whack him with it. If the man didn't die from the rake hit, the perp would not be charged with attempted murder. His charges would depend on the severity of the injuries he inflicted. It could be an assault misdemeanor or a felony mayhem.

Let's say two men are fighting and one punches the other, and the punched man lands on the ground, hits his head on the street, and's not murder. It's manslaughter. He didn't plan to kill him, he just wanted to rough him up a bit.

Here's another scenario. A guy goes into a store to rob it. He has a gun. He doesn't intend to really hurt anyone, he just wants to scare the clerk into giving up the money. The gun goes off and kills the clerk. The district attorney wants a murder charge, because he walked in with the gun. The defense lawyer will argue to the judge that it was just gross negligence because the intent was to rob, not to kill. It was a terrible accident that the gun went off...he asks for manslaughter. It's the difference in some states between a death by injection sentence and a life in prison sentence.

Jody E. Lebel said...

@ Chris. Check out today's news. Oscar Pistorius was found guilty of culpable homicide (our manslaughter) but not murder.

Chris said...

Yes, I have been following the Oscar case, which I think is tragic for all concerned. The technicalities of what constitutes murder or the lesser charge of manslaughter create such a grey area, I can understand how victims' families must feel huge anger and frustration when someone is found not guilty of murder after taking the life of their loved one. I suppose in a country that still has the death penalty (which thankfully we don't in the UK), the distinction is all the more important since, as you say, a guilty verdict would well mean the taking of another life.

Interesting post, Jody. Thanks for setting out the distinctions between the two.