Legal Definition of Murder: Everything You Need to Know
Murder is one of the most important crimes that can be committed against individuals, and has been variously defined.3 min read
This, one of the most important crimes that can be committed against individuals, has been variously defined. Hawkins defines it to be the wilful killing of any subject whatever, with malice aforethought, whether the person slain shall be an Englishman or a foreigner.
Russell says, murder is the killing of any person under the king's peace, with malice prepense or aforethought, either express or implied by law.
And Sir Edward Coke defines or rather describes this offence to be, "when a person of sound mind and discretion, unlawfully killeth any reasonable creature in being, and under the king's peace, with malice aforethought either express or implied."
According to Coke's definition there must be:
1. Sound mind and memory in the agent. By this is understood there must be a will, and legal discretion.
2. An actual killing, but it is not necessary that it should be caused by direct violence; it is sufficient if the acts done apparently endanger life, and eventually fatal. The party killed must have been a reasonable being, alive and in the king's peace.
To constitute a birth, so as to make the killing of a child murder, the whole body must be detached from that of the mother; but if it has come wholly forth, but is still connected by the umbilical chord, such killing will be murder. Foeticide would not be such a killing; he must have been in rerum natura.
Varying Degrees of Murder
Malice, either express or implied. It is this circumstance which distiuguishes murder from every description of homicide. In some of the states, by legislative enactments, murder has been divided into degrees.
In Pennsylvania, the act of April 22, 1794, makes "all murder which shall be perpetrated by means of poison, or by lying in wait, or by any other kind of wilful, deliberate, and premeditated killing, or which shall be committed in the perpetration or attempt to perpetrate, any arson, rape, robbery, or burglary, shall be deemed murder of the first degree; and all other kinds of murder shall be deemed murder of the second degree; and the jury before whom any person indicted for murder shall be tried, shall, if they find the person guilty thereof, ascertain in their verdict, whether it be murder of the first or second degree; but if such person shall be convicted by confession, the court shall proceed by examination of witnesses, to determine the degree of the crime, and give sentence accordingly.pleadings.
In an indictment for murder, it must be charged that the prisoner "did kill and murder" the deceased, and unless the word murder be introduced into the charge, the indictment will be taken to charge manslaughter only.