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|1||Show/Hide More||III.C.i. Involuntary Manslaughter and Similar Offences|
The intentional homicides we just studied required us to differentiate between what were clearly blameworthy acts. Unintentional homicide poses a different problem: how to distinguish between criminal deaths and noncriminal deaths, when the perpetrator did not act with purpose to kill or with knowledge that his conduct would result in killing.
When is a death deemed the result of someone’s criminal negligence or recklessness, and when is it a horrible accident that does not result in criminal liability? Some of the cases in this section present unsavory and unsympathetic protagonists; you may be able to empathize with others. Consider what the courts in each case think the defendants did wrong, and what legal tests they use to make those determinations.
|2||Show/Hide More||III.C.ii. Unintentional Murder|
Just as certain factors can bump murder down to manslaughter, others can bump it right back up. The cases in this section examine circumstances considered so extreme that, even though they do not show specific intent to kill or knowledge of killing, they are punished as “unintentional murder.”
The doctrines that raise these homicides from manslaughter to murder have provocative traditional names: depraved heart; abandoned heart; malignant heart; or, more recently, “extreme indifference to the value of human life.” Consider why we punish these unintentional killings more severely than others, and how we distinguish these kinds of homicides from “normal” recklessness or indifference. Is it simply an instinctual feeling that these crimes are more blameworthy? As you read these cases, consider how the main justifications for criminal punishment—retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation—justify elevating the level of criminal punishment.
|3||Show/Hide More||III.C.iii. Felony Murder|
In criminal law, sometimes the result trumps the intention.
Perhaps the least intuitive category of homicide that we will study is felony murder. Under the felony murder rule, accidental and unintentional killings that occur during the commission of a felony are sometimes elevated from unintentional homicide to murder.
The felony murder rule has been controversial. It has evolved in scope over time, and, as the cases below show, is now often limited to inherently dangerous felonies. By transferring intention and blameworthiness from a separate felony to a homicide, the felony murder rule significantly raises the stakes of any felony that may tangentially and even unforeseeably lead to death.
Why might the felony murder doctrine have developed? Consider how courts have limited it over time. What concerns have animated criticisms of the rule? Have the courts’ efforts to limit the rule preserved its usefulness, or is it an unfortunate relic of the past?
January 20, 2015
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