Law free essay: 2nd Degree Murder
2nd Degree Murder
Under the New Jersey State homicide laws, second class degree murder is classified as a form of crime against humans that are perpetrated in a manner that reveals no premeditated design to occasion the death (Cushing, Hillard and Summer, 1839). According to the definition of this category of homicide cases, it must be demonstrated that the death causing act must have been imminently dangerous and likely to cause serious harm to others. The reason why this has to be demonstrated is due to the sensitivity that the death of an individual may sometimes appear to be. Some individuals are overly sensitive to some conditions that would be generally harmless to other people. In such a situation, it is easy to deliver justice since accidental cases would be remedied accordingly under the other homicide classifications.
In New Jersey, the 62nd State’s General Assembly of 1837 deliberated and passed among other important resolutions that the State would need to be governed, the punishment of death. In the homicide intricacies that the General Assembly had to deal with, as observed above was to distinguish the various classes or degrees of homicide. Three general classifications were found to be definitive of the challenge earlier highlighted of the actual case parameters such as the intent of causing death and general threat to the entire population. Legislation effected later had a considerable reliance on the resolution passed in the General Assembly sitting of 1838. Alternatively, comparisons were made to consolidate the postulates of the American law with the prevalent common law practices. Contained in this discussion is the legislation in New Jersey and the common law position of homicide category of second degree of murder. In light of the elements of the two sets of law and usages, the changes that have occurred in the circles of legal practice regarding homicide cases of the specified nature are also discussed.
Murder under Statute and Common Laws
According to Lanning and Vroom (2005), general statutes of the State of New Jersey provide that there shall be two degrees of murder distinguished by the intention of the perpetrator at the time of occurrence of the death. The authors provide the Supplement 271 among other General Statutes of the State of New Jersey which provides for the first degree of murder to constitute such death caused by actions of an individual who commits the crime willfully, deliberately and in a premeditated account. The Supplement 271 continues to state that the other forms of murder fall under the second degree of homicide.
“Section 68 of the Act entitled An Act for the Punishment of Crimes… amended to read… That all murder which shall be perpetrated by means of poison or by lying in wait or by any other kind of willful, deliberate and premeditated killing, or which shall be committed in perpetrating or attempting to perpetrate… shall be deemed murder of the first degree… and all other kinds of murder shall be deemed murder of the second degree…,” (Lanning and Vroom, 2005, p1100).
In terms of punishment for second degree murder in New Jersey, the perpetrator is sentenced to a solitary imprisonment for life, a difference from first degree which attracts a punishment of death sentence. Hard labor is also part of the punishment for a second degree murder case, which is on the contrary not part of the first degree murder punishment. However, according to New Jersey Legal Guide (2011) it is upon the prosecution to prove that the action of the defendant caused the alleged death under circumstances that translate to the posing of a great danger to the wider population as well.
Regarding the common law position on second degree murder cases, there is a general acceptance that murder is defined as;
“…when a person of sound memory and discretion, unlawfully killeth any reasonable creature in being and under the king’s peace, with malice aforethought, either express or implied…,” (Yale Law School, 2008, p1).
One important tenet of the provisions of the common law interpretation and treatment of the crime during its determination is the element of malice. Malice aforethought in terms of ordinary interpretation can be said to relate to the intentions of the murderer, where there should be willingness to commit the crime and prior meditation or planning of the same. The other elements of application in the common law interpretation of murder include the actual killing which the prosecutor or state must prove, involvement of a human being as the victim of the murder since other creatures would not qualify for murder and the perpetrator must also be human in nature since the deliberation and premeditation can only occur inside the human mental faculties.
Common law is very specific in interpretation malice which carries a lot of weight in the murder cases. To determine the level of malice in case facts, intent to kill must be established where intent to inflict grievous bodily harm also implies first degree nature of murder. Recklessness as a measure of malice is usually translated in a more lenient interpretation which renders the case a second degree murder case. Murdering under “the heat of passion” is sometimes used to define the actual intention of the murderer as guided by the circumstances surrounding the case. In light of the second degree murder circumstances, there are several scenarios that of murder that are modified into the second degree due to the malice measure in every case. For instance, when death occurs while the murderer was intending to commit a different criminal action, it can be argued that the intention of the murderer was not expressly directed at murder but it follows that death occurs by implication in such a scenario. In such a case, it becomes a second degree type of murder. When the person acts in fear, anger or intense terror to commit a murder, it effectively falls under the second degree category.
As illustrated, common law introduces an element of fairness where the facts of the case are brought to light and deliberations on the case parameters guide in the formation of the verdict. However the judge is not tied by legal precedence set in the past, despite there being a clear provision of common law malice measures as well as elements of a murder. The variations in the presenting facts from one case to the other opens a window of opportunity to the judge to make a judgment that is conscious of reasonableness as the key foundation of common law.
The differences that have occurred in the determination of murder cases are largely an inspiration of the common law which provides a departure from rigid treatment of cases to the principle of dealing with factual presentation of various cases. While reliance on the previously set precedents plays a central role in case law the freedom of the judge to form original judgment on cases of murder is still a dynamic feature of common law (Bennett and Heard, 1857). The New Jersey legislation formulation seems to heavily rely on the common law postulates regarding murder and very minor differences can be spotted in the statues. In fact, most of the US statutes and criminal law practices were borrowed from the “common law of England,” (Anderson and Gardner, 2008, p238). In application of the two systems of legal information, the state statutes would take charge since they are the supreme law of the land.
Some of the changes in today’s practice include the use of technology to determine the level of malice in a case, since it was difficult to establish the intent of the murderer in some instances. Defense to murder cases have therefore been affected by the changes in every aspect of the judicial process (Ben, 2010). Statutes laws have acknowledged the complexity of murder cases over the years, which have led to modification of the statutes to accommodate the diverse nature of cases. Much change has also taken place to make the common law responsive and reasonable with regard to modern lifestyles. For instance, it is no more a practice by the state to enforce forfeiture of personal property and a blanket punishment of death for the convicted (Emlyn et al, 1847, p453). As a matter of fact, death punishment has been reduced to life term imprisonment.
Anderson, T. M. & Gardner, T. J. (2008) Criminal law. Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning
Ben, (2010) “Changes to the Defenses to Murder: ss. 54 and 55 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009,” Retrieved from: http://yourlawstudent.blogspot.com/2010/11/changes-to-defences-to-murder-ss-54-and.html
Bennett, E. H. & Heard, F. F. (1857) A selection of leading cases in criminal law: with notes, vol.1. Boston, MA: Little Brown and Company
Cushing, L. S., Hillard, G. S. & Summer, C. (1839) “The American Jurist and Law Magazine, vol. 20” Boston, MA: Freeman and Bolles,
Emlyn, S., Hale, S. M., Ingersoll, E. & Stokes, W. A. (1847) Historia placitorum coronae: the history of the pleas of the crown, vol.1. Philadelphia, PA: R. H. Small Publications
Lanning, W. M. & Vroom, G. D. W. (2005) General statutes of New Jersey. Clark, NJ: The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd.,
New Jersey Legal Guide, (2011) “New Jersey Criminal Homicide Law,” Retrieved from: http://www.newjersey-legal-guide.com/New-Jersey-Criminal-Homicide.html
Yale Law School (2008) “Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England Book the Fourth – Chapter the Fourteenth: Of Homicide” The Avalon Project, Retrieved from: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/blackstone_bk4ch14.asp
If you are looking for a cheap essay writing service high quality academic papers, you are at the right place! Scholarlywriters.com offers professional academic writing help at a very low price and our clients only receive 100% plagiarism free papers