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Mariah Gonzalez

Leslie Bruce

ENGL 301-50 16791

MLA Format

December 10th, 2018

Murder is a crime in which someone unlawfully kills another person. Murder is considered

unjustifiable in a moral and ethical standpoint because the offender is depriving someone of their

life. The offender has malice aforethought (the

intention to kill or harm) when committing this crime.

Malice aforethought may be expressed or implied.

“It is expressed when there is evidence of a deliberate

intention to kill” (Levin 1302-1303). Murder is often

confused with homicide where as it is a subcategory

O.J Simpson on trial for the murders of
of homicide. Homicide is “the killing of one human
Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman.
His two lawyers Robert Shapiro and
being by another and is not necessarily a crime.” It is
Johnnie Cochran. (Reed Saxton)
“not necessarily a crime” when it includes the death penalty or a law enforcement official taking

a life in the line of duty (Barkan and Bryjak 42). Homicide can be divided into two subcategories:

murder and manslaughter. The intent or state of mind determines whether the act of homicide is

murder or manslaughter.

Table of Contents


Degrees of Murder

- 1st Degree

- 2nd Degree

- Voluntary Manslaughter

- Involuntary Manslaughter

- Felony Murder

Elements of a Crime

- Criminal Intent

- Actus Reus

- Concurrence

- Causation

- Harm


Legal Defenses to Criminal Charges

- Justification Defenses

- Excuse Defenses


The word “murder” extends from Old English “morðor” meaning “secret Killing of a person”,

unlawful killing.” From Proto- Germanic times, “murthran” meaning “mortal son, crime;

punishment, torment, misery” (Online Etymology Dictionary).

Degrees of Murder

First degree murder

First degree murder is the most serious of all homicide charges and requires

premeditation and malice aforethought. First degree murder “requires either an intent to kill or

intent to cause serious injury together with an awareness of a serious risk of causing death”
(Mitchell 318). In this case, the offender makes a conscious choice to kill a person before

committing the crime. In states with capital punishment, first degree murder is carried with the

death penalty (Barkan and Bryjak 42).

Second degree murder

Second degree murder is not a premeditated killing and the offender may or may not have

intended to take the life of the victim (Mitchell 318). An example of this would be,

Voluntary manslaughter

Voluntary manslaughter also known as “crime of passion” murder, refers to an

intentional killing under circumstances that are at less fault which reduce the offender’s guilt

(Cole, Smith, & DeJong 52). At less fault can mean that the offender was driven to commit these

acts because of an emotional reaction to something. Though this is not an excuse but a motive for


Involuntary manslaughter

Involuntary manslaughter results from reckless behavior. The offender may not require

the intent to kill but the action that resulted in death was intentional. Some examples can be

texting and driving, using drugs, or even discharging a firearm. Many people are familiar with

involuntary manslaughter in relation to drunk-driving.

Felony murder

Felony murder is a rule that extends the definition of murder. This rule applies when

someone commits or attempts to commit a felony, and a death results from the crime. Felonies

that are most notable are rape, robbery, or arson. Whether the death was accidental or intentional
doesn’t matter, the offender is liable. This rule doesn’t require an intent to kill or malice

aforethought (Barkan and Bryjak 42).

Elements of a Crime

The elements of a crime are the criteria that proves if the person can be convicted of the

offense. Each following element must be present:

Criminal intent

Criminal intent, better known as mens rea or “guilty mind” means the person must have

intended to commit crime before it can be considered a crime (Cole et al. 95). The offender must

have been conscious of their actions and knew that their actions would harm someone.

Actus reus

Actus reus means “guilty act” in Latin. This is the idea that you commit to doing the act

and not just thinking about commiting the act (Barkan and Bryjak 161). Both actus reus and

mens rea are key elements when it comes to justifying a guilty verdict. From a principle stated by

Edward Coke, the terms actus reus and mens rea are used as “Actus non facit reum nisi mens sit

rea” which means: "an act does not make a person guilty unless their mind is also guilty” (1997).

Coke’s Institutes Part III was the first major study of English criminal law. It was believed that

Coke was influenced from the Church due to their importance of spiritual values and mental



Concurrence refers to the criminal act and the criminal intent occurring around the same

time, mens rea before actus reus (Levin 1310). This is how most crimes occur but in some very
rare cases, the offender might be planning to kill someone one way and accidentally kill that

person in an unintended way.


Causation is the criminal act causing the harm done to the victim. There must be a clear

relationship between the act and the harm suffered (Cole et al. 94).


Harm must be done to a legally protected value. “The harm can be to a person, property,

or some other object valuable enough to deserve protection through the government’s power to

punish” (Cole et al. 95). The question raised is whether or not suicide (or attempted) and

victimless crimes, such as prostitution or drug use, qualify because the participants are willing to

put themselves in harm's way.


Punishments, like degrees of murder, vary in each state. Typically, a convicted murder

suspect is given a life sentence or even the death penalty. In California, degrees of murder are

divided into several forms of offenses. First

degree murder can range from 25 years to life,

life without parole, or death penalty depending

on the circumstances of the murder. Second

degree murder can range from 15 years to life

and increase depending on the act. 20 years to

The restraining device used for lethal
life is given if using a firearm from a motor injection. Room located in San Quentin
state prison. (Scott Shafer)
vehicle, known as a drive-by. 15 years to life or
life without parole if the offender was already previously convicted of murder (either first or

second). Lastly, 25 years to life if the offender murdered a law enforcement officer. California

has a wide variety of punishments for murder while other states have a more simplified system of

punishments (Cole et al. 205).

Legal Defenses to Criminal Charges

There are several types of criminal defenses, some are justifications while others are

excuses. The justification defenses are:

 Self- Defense, the act of protecting yourself when you believe you are in danger or will

experience harm from another person. The person in danger is entitled to defend

themselves with the same amount of force that is being threatened against them.

 Necessity can be used when someone breaks the law to protect themselves or prevent

more harm.

The excuse defenses are:

 Duress, also known as Coercion, focuses on making it seem that the offender was led by

another person to commit the act. “Generally, courts are not willing to accept this defense

if person does not try to escape from the situation if an opportunity arises” (Cole et al. 98)

 Infancy can be debated by different jurisdictions. “Common law states that children aged

7-14 are not liable for their actions” (Cole et al. 99). It is believed that children lack

responsibility for their actions (mens rea) and are immature.

 Mistake of Fact may serve as a defense if someone lacks the knowledge and made a

mistake on a crucial fact. If jurors understand and sympathize with your mistake, this

defense could be a success.

 Intoxication can be used when someone was tricked into being intoxicated and didn’t

voluntarily become intoxicated. An example would be side effects of certain medication

causing someone to act a certain way.

 Insanity has many tests to determine whether the offender has the mental capacity to

commit the crime. It is believed that this defense is an “escape” from doing time for their

actions. Even if this is successful, they do not go free but must be secured in mental

facilities. “Less that 1% of criminal defendants are found not guilty by reason of

insanity” (Cole et al. 100).

Works Cited

Barkan, Steven E., and George J. Bryjak. Myths and Realities of Crime and Justice. 2nd ed.,

Jones & Bartlett Learning. 2014.

Coke, Edward (1797). Institutes, Part III.

Cole, George F., Smith, Christopher E., and DeJong, Christina. Criminal Justice in America. 9th

ed., Cengage Learning, 2018.

Levin, Mark S. "People v. Watson: Drunk Driving Homicide--Murder or Enhanced

Manslaughter." Cal. L. Rev. 71 (1983): 1298.

Mitchell, Barry. "Distinguishing between Murder and Manslaughter in Practice." Journal of

Criminal Law, vol. 71, no. 4, Aug. 2007, pp. 318-341.

“Online Etymology Dictionary.” Index,

Saxton, Reed. “Lawyers Robert Shapiro, Left, and Johnnie Cochran with O.J. Simpson.”

Business Insider, AP Photo,


Shafer, Scott. “Lethal Injection Chair.” KQED. 2010,