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Murder, as defined in common law countries, is the unlawful killing of another human being with intent (or malice aforethought), and generally this state of mind distinguishes murder from other forms of unlawful homicide (such as manslaughter). As the loss of a human being inflicts enormous grief upon the individuals close to the victim, as well as the fact that the commission of a murder permanently deprives the victim of their existence, most societies both present and in antiquity have considered it a most serious crime worthy of the harshest of punishment. Typically a convicted murder suspect is given a life sentence or even the death penalty for such an act. A person who commits murder is called a murderer ; the term murderess, meaning a woman who murders, has largely fallen into disuse.

Legal analysis of murder

William Blackstone (citing Edward Coke), in his Commentaries on the Laws of England set out the common law definition of murder as

The first few elements are relatively straightforward; however, the concept of "malice aforethought" is a complex one that does not necessarily mean premeditation. The following states of mind are recognized as constituting the various forms of "malice aforethought":

  1. Intent to kill,
  2. Intent to inflict grievous bodily harm short of death,
  3. Reckless indifference to an unjustifiably high risk to human life (sometimes described as an "abandoned and malignant heart"), or
  4. Intent to commit a dangerous felony (the "felony-murder" doctrine).

Under state of mind (i), intent to kill, the deadly weapon rule applies. Thus, if the defendant intentionally uses a deadly weapon or instrument against the victim, such use authorizes a permissive inference of intent to kill. An example of a deadly weapon or instrument is a gun, a knife, or even a car when intentionally used to strike the victim.

Under state of mind (iii), an "abandoned and malignant heart", the killing must result from defendant's conduct involving a reckless indifference to human life and a conscious disregard of an unreasonable risk of death or serious bodily injury. An example of this is a 2007 law in Californiamarker where an individual could be convicted of second-degree murder if he or she kills another person while operating a motor vehicle while being under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or controlled substances.

Under state of mind (iv), the felony-murder doctrine, the felony committed must be an inherently dangerous felony, such as burglary, arson, rape, robbery or kidnapping. Importantly, the underlying felony cannot be a lesser included offense such as assault, otherwise all criminal homicides would be murder as all are felonies.

Many jurisdiction divide murder by degrees. The most common divisions are between first and second degree murder. Generally second degree murder is common law murder with first degree being an aggravated form. The aggravating factors that distinguish first degree murder from second degree are first degree murder requires a specific intent to kill and premeditation and deliberation.


Murder in religion

One of the oldest known prohibitions against murder appears in the Sumerian Code of Ur-Nammu written sometime between 2100 and 2050 BC. The code states, "If a man commits a murder, that man must be killed."

In Abrahamic religions, the prohibition against murder is one of the Ten Commandments given by God to Moses in (Exodus: 20v13) and (Deuteronomy 5v17) (See Murder in the Bible). The Vulgate and subsequent early English translations of the Bible used the term secretly killeth his neighbor or smiteth his neighbour secretly rather than murder for the Latin clam percusserit proximum.

Later editions such as Young's Literal Translation and the World English Bible have translated the Latin occides simply as murder rather than the alternatives of kill, assassinate, fall upon or slay. Christian churches have some doctrinal differences about what forms of homicide are prohibited biblically, though all agree murder is.

The term "assassin" derives from Hashshashin, a militant Ismaili Muslim sect, active from the eighth to the fourteenth centuries. This mystic secret society killed members of the Abbasid, Fatimid, Seljuq and Crusader élite for political and religious reasons.

The Thuggee cult that plagued Indiamarker was devoted to Kali, the goddess of death and destruction. According to the Guinness Book of Records the Thuggee cult was responsible for approximately 2 million deaths.

According to Ross Hassig, author of Aztec Warfare, "between 10,000 and 80,400 persons" were sacrificed in the 1487 re-consecration of the Great Pyramid of Tenochtitlanmarker.


The crime of murder was often formally codified after democratic reform in various jurisdictions, legislatures began passing statutes.

Legal definition

As with most legal terms, the precise definition of murder varies between jurisdictions and is usually codified in some form of legislation.

At common law

According to Blackstone, English common law identified murder as a public wrong. At common law, murder is considered to be malum in se, that is an act which is evil within itself. An act such as murder is wrong/evil by its very nature. And it is the very nature of the act which does not require any specific detailing or definition in the law to consider murder a crime.

Some jurisdictions still take a common law view of murder. In such jurisdictions, precedent case law or previous decisions of the courts of law defines what is considered murder. However, it tends to be rare and the majority of jurisdictions have some statutory prohibition against murder.

Basic elements

In common law jurisdictions, murder has two elements or parts:
  1. the act (actus reus) of killing a person
  2. the state of mind (mens rea) of intentional, purposeful, malicious, premeditated, and/or wanton.

While murder is often expressed as the unlawful killing of another human being with "malice aforethought", this element of malice may not be required in every jurisdiction (for example, see the French definition of murder below).
  • The element of malice aforethought can be satisfied by an intentional killing, which is considered express malice.
  • Malice can also be implied: deaths that occur by any recklessness or during certain serious crimes are considered to be implied malice murders.


  • Unlawful killings without malice or intent are considered manslaughter.
  • Justified or accidental killings are considered homicides. Depending on the circumstances, these may or may not be considered criminal offenses.
  • Suicide is not considered murder in most societies. Assisting a suicide, however, may be considered murder in some circumstances.
  • Capital punishment ordered by a legitimate court of law as the result of a conviction in a criminal trial with due process for a serious crime.
  • Killing of enemy combatants by lawful combatants in accordance with lawful orders in war, although illicit killings within a war may constitute murder or homicidal war crimes. (see the Laws of war article)
  • The administration of lethal drugs by a doctor to a terminally ill patient, if the intention is solely to alleviate pain, is seen in many jurisdictions as a special case (see the doctrine of double effect and the case of Dr John Bodkin Adams).


All jurisdictions require that the victim be a natural person; that is a human being who was still alive at the time of being murdered. Most jurisdictions legally distinguish killing a fetus or unborn child as a different crime, such as illegal abortion of a fetus or the unlawful killing of an unborn child. The distinction between a fetus and an unborn child in these jurisdictions is that a child could survive if it had been born, while a fetus could not.

Mitigating circumstances

Some countries allow conditions that "affect the balance of the mind" to be regarded as mitigating circumstances. This means that a person may be found guilty of "manslaughter" on the basis of "diminished responsibility" rather than murder, if it can be proved that the killer was suffering from a condition that affected their judgment at the time. Depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and medication side-effect are examples of conditions that may be taken into account when assessing responsibility.


Mental disorder may apply to a wide range of disorders including psychosis caused by schizophrenia and dementia, and excuse the person from the need to undergo the stress of a trial as to liability. In some jurisdictions, following the pre-trial hearing to determine the extent of the disorder, the defense of "not guilty by reason of insanity" may be used to get a not guilty verdict. This defense has two elements:
  1. That the defendant had a serious mental illness, disease, or defect.
  2. That the defendant's mental condition, at the time of the killing, rendered the perpetrator unable to determine right from wrong, or that what he or she was doing was wrong.

Under New Yorkmarker law, for example:

Under the French Penal Code:

Those who successfully argue a defense based on a mental disorder are usually referred to mandatory clinical treatment until they are certified safe to be released back into the community, rather than prison.

Post-partum depression

Some countries, such as Canadamarker, Italymarker, Norwaymarker, Swedenmarker, the United Kingdommarker, New Zealandmarker and Australia, allow post-partum depression (also known as post-natal depression) as a defense against murder of a child by a mother, provided that a child is less than two years old (this may be the specific offense of infanticide rather than murder and include the effects of lactation and other aspects of post-natal care).

In 2009, Texas state representative Jessica Farrar proposed similar rules for her home state. Under the terms of the proposed legislation, if jurors concluded that a mother's "judgment was impaired as a result of the effects of giving birth or the effects of lactation following the birth," they would be allowed to convict her of the crime of infanticide, rather than murder. When Infanticide Isn't Murder The maximum penalty for infanciticide would be two years in prison. Farrar's introduction of this bill prompted liberal bioethics scholar Jacob M. Appel to call her "the bravest politician in America."


Acting in self-defense or in defense of another person is generally accepted as legal justification for killing a person in situations that would otherwise have been murder. However, a self-defense killing might be considered manslaughter if the killer established control of the situation before the killing took place. In the case of self-defense it is called a justifiable homicide.


For a killing to be considered murder, there normally needs to be an element of intent. For this argument to be successful the killer generally needs to demonstrate that they took precautions not to kill and that the death could not have been anticipated or was unavoidable, whatever action they took. As a general rule, manslaughter constitutes reckless killing, while criminally negligent homicide is a grossly negligent killing.

Diminished capacity

In those jurisdictions using the Uniform Penal Code, such as Californiamarker, diminished capacity may be a defense. For example, Dan White used this defense to obtain a manslaughter conviction, instead of murder, in the assassination of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk.

Year-and-a-day rule

In some common law jurisdictions, a defendant accused of murder is not guilty if the victim survives for longer than one year and one day after the attack. This reflects the likelihood that if the victim dies, other factors will have contributed to the cause of death, breaking the chain of causation. Subject to any statute of limitations, the accused could still be charged with an offence representing the seriousness of the initial assault.

With advances in modern medicine, most countries have abandoned a fixed time period and test causation on the facts of the case.

In the UK, due to medical advancements, the "year-and-a-day-rule" is no longer in use. However, if death occurs three years or more after the original attack then prosecution can take place only with the Attorney-General's approval.

In the United States, many jurisdictions have abolished the rule as well. Abolition of the rule has been accomplished by enactment of statutory criminal codes, which had the effect of displacing the common-law definitions of crimes and corresponding defenses. In 2001, the Supreme Court of the United Statesmarker held that retroactive application of a state supreme court decision abolishing the year-and-a-day rule did not violate the Ex Post Facto Clause of Article I of the United States Constitution.


Murders (per 100,000 people per annum) (most recent) by country
An estimated 520,000 people were murdered in 2000 around the globe. Two-fifths of them were young people between the ages of 10 and 29 who were killed by other young people.

Murder rates vary greatly among countries and societies around the world. In the Western world, murder rates in most countries have declined significantly during the 20th century and are now between 1-4 cases per 100,000 people per year. Murder rates in Japanmarker, Irelandmarker and Icelandmarker are among the lowest in the world, around 0.5; the rate of the United Statesmarker is among the highest of developed countries, around 5.5 in 2004, with rates in larger cities sometimes over 40 per 100,000.

Within the Western world, nearly 90% of all murders are committed by males, with males also being the victims of 74.6% of murders (according the United States Department of Justicemarker). There is a sharp peak in the age distribution of murderers between the ages of 17 and 30. People become less likely to commit a murder as they age. Incidents of children and adolescents committing murders are also extremely rare.

The following absolute murder counts per-country are not comparable because they are not adjusted by each country's total population. Nonetheless, they are included here for reference. There are an estimated 55,000 murders in Brazilmarker every year, about 30,000 murders committed annually in Russiamarker, approximately 25,000 murders in Colombiamarker (in 2005, murders went down to 15,000), approximately 20,000 murders each year in South Africa, approximately 17,000 murders in the United Statesmarker (666,160 murders from 1960 to 1996), approximately 15,000 murders in Mexicomarker, approximately 11,000 murders in Venezuelamarker, approximately 6,000 murders in El Salvadormarker, approximately 1,600 murders in Jamaicamarker, approximately 1000 murders in Francemarker, approximately 580 murders per year in Canadamarker, and approximately 200 murders in Chilemarker. The murder rate in Port Moresbymarker, Papua New Guineamarker is 23 times that of Londonmarker. 32,719 murder cases were registered across Indiamarker in 2007. Pakistanmarker reported 9,631 murders.

Murder is the leading cause of death for African American males aged 15 – 34. In the year 2007 non-negligent homicides, there were 3,221 black victims and 3,587 white victims. While 2,905 of the black victims were killed by a black offender, 2,918 of the white victims were killed by white offenders. There were 566 white victims of black offenders and 245 black victims of white offenders.

Murder demographics are affected by the improvement of trauma care, leading to reduced lethality of violent assaults - thus the murder rate may not necessarily indicate the overall level of social violence.

Development of murder rates over time in different countries is often used by both supporters and opponents of capital punishment and gun control. Using properly filtered data, it is possible to make the case for or against either of these issues. For example, one could look at murder rates in the United States from 1950 to 2000, and notice that those rates went up sharply shortly after a moratorium on death sentences was effectively imposed in the late 1960s. This fact has been used to argue that capital punishment serves as a deterrent and, as such, it is morally justified. Capital punishment opponents frequently counter that the United States has much higher murder rates than Canadamarker and most European Union countries, although all those countries have abolished the death penalty. Overall, the global pattern is too complex, and on average, the influence of both these factors may not be significant and could be more social, economic, and cultural.

The fraction of murders solved has decreased in the United States, from 90% in 1960 to 61% in 2007. Solved murder rates in major U.S. cities varied in 2007 from 36% in Boston, Massachusettsmarker to 76% in San Jose, Californiamarker. Major factors affecting the arrest rate include witness cooperation and the number of people assigned to investigate the case.

Country-specific murder law


Murder is defined in the New South Walesmarker (NSW) Crimes Act 1900 as follows:

Under NSW law, the maximum penalty for murder is life imprisonment with a standard non-parole period of 20 years. Attempted murder carries a maximum penalty of 25 years imprisonment. Note that in order to be guilty of murder under the NSW Crimes Act, intent to cause grievous bodily harm is enough to secure a conviction for murder, as is felony murder (constructive murder in Australia).

There is a statutory defence of provocation in NSW law; if provocation is proven and the person would have otherwise been convicted of murder, directs the jury to find the defendant not guilty of murder but guilty of manslaughter.

However, this is not the case in Victoriamarker or Tasmania - the Crimes Act 1958 (VIC), in Section 3B, states:
The rule of law that provocation reduces the crime of murder to manslaughter is abolished.

In any jurisdiction within Australia, the maximum penalty for murder is life imprisonment.


As defined in the Criminal Code of Canada, murder is a culpable homicide with specific intentions.

Culpable homicide is defined as causing the death of a human being,
  • By means of an unlawful act;

  • By criminal negligence;

  • By causing that human being, by threats or fear of violence or by deception, to do anything that causes his death; or

  • By wilfully frightening that human being, in the case of a child or sick person.

Culpable homicide is elevated to murder when

  • The person who causes the death of a human being means to cause his death, or means to cause him bodily harm that he knows is likely to cause his death and is reckless whether death ensues or not;

  • A person meant to cause the death of a human being or cause him bodily harm that he knows is likely to cause his death, and by accident or mistake causes death to another human being, notwithstanding that he does not mean to cause death or bodily harm to that person (see transferred intent); or

  • A person, for an unlawful objective, does anything he knows is likely to cause death, and thereby causes death to a human being, notwithstanding that he desires to effect his objective without causing death or bodily harm to any human being.

First and second degree

In Canada, murder is classified as either first or second degree.
  1. First degree murder is a murder which is (1) planned and deliberate, (2) contracted, (3) committed against an identified peace officer, (4) while committing or attempting to commit one of the following offences (hijacking an aircraft, sexual assault, sexual assault with a weapon, aggravated sexual assault, kidnapping and forcible confinement or hostage taking), (5) while committing criminal harassment, (6) committed during terrorist activity, (7) while using explosives in association with a criminal organization, or (8) while committing intimidation.
  2. Second degree murder is all murder which is not first degree murder. It could be "spur of the moment".

Manslaughter and infanticide

  1. Manslaughter is any culpable homicide which is not murder or infanticide.
  2. Infanticide is the killing of a newly-born child by its mother where the mother's mind was disturbed as a result of giving birth or of consequent lactation. It is a type of homicide but is excluded from murder.


In addition, depending on the type of homicide offence, there may be different degrees of causation that the prosecutor is required to prove. The general test for causation in all homicide offences is a significant contributing cause of the victim's death. If the jury finds that the accused committed the murder in the context of one of the offences listed above (criteria (4) of first degree murder), then the jury must be satisfied the accused was a substantial cause of the victim's death before finding the accused guilty of first degree murder.


The mandatory sentence for any adult (or youth sentenced as an adult) convicted of murder in Canada is a life sentence, with various time periods before a person may apply for parole. The ability to apply for parole does not mean parole is granted.

Offence/circumstances Parole ineligibility period
Second degree murder 10–25 years
Second degree murder by an offender previously convicted of murder 25 years
Second degree murder (16 or 17 years old at time of the offence) 7 years
First degree murder 25 years
First degree murder (16 or 17 years old at time of the offence) 10 years
First/second degree murder (14 or 15 years old at time of the offence) 5–7 years

Someone guilty of a single murder could be have his non-parole period reduced to no less than 15 years under the Faint hope clause.

There is a clause under which a person convicted of any "personal injury offence" meeting the statutory criteria may be declared a "dangerous offender". A dangerous offender is sentenced for an indeterminate period of imprisonment and is eligible for parole after serving at least 7 years. An offender convicted of 1st or 2nd degree murder is ineligible to be declared a dangerous offender. However, an offender convicted of manslaughter can be declared a dangerous offender.

A youth (12 years old or older) who is not sentenced as an adult does not face a life sentence. Instead, if convicted of first degree murder, they must serve a maximum sentence of 10 years, with a maximum of 6 of those years spent in custody. If convicted of second degree murder, they must serve a maximum of 7 years, with a maximum of 4 of those years spent in custody.


The Chinese Penalty Law, as amended in 1997, provides for a penalty of death, or imprisonment for life or no less than 10 years, for "killing with intent." However, the penalty for "minor killing with intent" is imprisonment for no less than 3 years. In practice, "killing with indignation" (killing someone who is obviously very harmful to the society) and killings committed in excessive defense are considered "minor."


In Denmark manddrab (manslaughter) is the term used by the Danish penalty law to describe the act of intentionally killing another person. No distinction between manslaughter and murder exists. The penalty goes from a minimum of five years (six years in the case of regicide) to imprisonment for life.

Besides the general offence described above there are more specific homicide offences in Danish law that are not considered as grave as manslaughter. Infanticide is defined as a mother who kills her child during or immediately after childbirth due to distress, fear of infamy or under the influence of a debilitation, bewilderment or perplexity caused by giving birth and is punished with imprisonment for up to four years. Euthanasia is defined as killing somebody on their definite request and is punished with imprisonment for up to three years. While attempting suicide is not considered criminal in Danish law, assisting somebody in committing suicide is punishable by imprisonment for up to three years.

Besides deliberate killing two offences regarding the unintentional killing of someone exist in Danish law. Negligent homicide is defined as negligently causing the death of another person. The penalty is a fine or imprisonment for up to four years, under aggravating circumstances imprisonment for up to eight years. Death caused by aggravated battery describes the situation where the perpetrator has the intention to commit an aggravated battery but where the battery leads to the unintentional death of the victim. The punishment is imprisonment for up to ten years.

England and Wales

In English law, the definition of murder is:
The unlawful killing of a human being, under the Queen's Peace, with "malice aforethought".

Contrast this with the original definition by Sir Edward Coke CJ in 1597 of:

Note that it is no longer necessary for the victim to die within a year and a day of the offence, nor for the victim to be a reasonable creature.

Specific statutory instances of situations where death is caused are:
  • Infanticide - Under s1 Infanticide Act 1938, the intentional killing of an infant under 1-year-old by a mother suffering from post-natal depression or other post-natal disturbance represents an early form of diminished responsibility defence and
  • Causing death by dangerous driving (of a motor vehicle) was introduced because jurors, many of whom were drivers, thought the charge of manslaughter to carry too great a level of stigma for the degree of fault actually shown by some drivers and refused to convict when the charge was manslaughter. Now motor manslaughter is considered an acceptable charge for the more seriously dangerous examples of driving resulting in death, with aggravated TWOC for the least seriously dangerous driving resulting in death.
The aggravated form of criminal damage, including arson, under s1(2) Criminal Damage Act 1971 could be the anticipatory offence rather than a charge of attempted murder.

Any other killing would be considered either manslaughter in English law or an accident.
  • Voluntary manslaughter is murder mitigated to manslaughter by virtue of the statutory defences under the Homicide Act 1957, namely provocation, diminished responsibility or suicide pact.
  • Involuntary manslaughter is the killing of another person whether by act or omission either while committing an unlawful act (known as constructive manslaughter) or by gross negligence.

English Law also allows for transferred malice. For example, where a man fires a gun with the intent to kill person A but the shot misses and kills an otherwise unconnected person B, the intent to kill transfers from person A to person B and a charge of murder would stand. The accused could also be charged with the attempted murder of A.

As to mens rea, the model direction to be given to juries for intention in English law following R v. Woollin, is a modified version of that proposed by Lord Lane, C.J. in R v Nedrick [1986] 1 WLR 1025, namely:
Where the charge is murder and in the rare cases where the simple direction is not enough, the jury should be directed that they are not entitled to infer the necessary intention, unless they feel sure that death or serious bodily harm was a virtual certainty (barring some unforeseen intervention) as a result of the defendant's actions and that the defendant appreciated that such was the case, the decision being for the jury to decide on a consideration of all the evidence.

The defences of duress and necessity in English law are excluded from murder cases. An exception is Re A [2000], a case involving a pair of conjoined twins. However, the judge noted the legal adage that "hard cases make bad law" and recommended that the precedent should not be followed. Another defence is that of double effect. As established in the 1957 trial of Dr John Bodkin Adams, causing death through the administration of lethal drugs to a patient, if the intention is solely to alleviate pain, is not considered murder.

Comparatively recent adaptations to the English law of murder include the abolition of the "year and a day rule", and the proposed introduction of a less restrictive regime for corporate manslaughter. The Law Commission Consultation Paper No. 177 also advocates a redefinition of murder and a limitation of the scope of manslaughter.


In Finland, murder is defined as homicide with at least one of four aggravating factors:

  1. Deliberate intent
  2. Exceptional brutality or cruelty
  3. Significantly endangering public safety
  4. Committed against a public official engaged in enforcing the law.

Further, the offense considered as a whole must be aggravated. A murder doesn't expire.

The only possible punishment for murder is life imprisonment. Typically, the prisoner will be pardoned by the Helsinki Court of Appeals after serving 12 to 14 years of the sentence, but this is not automatic. The President can also give pardon, and previously this used to be the only possibility.

In jurisprudence, the comparison of an actual crime against the "especially brutal or cruel way" standard has been understood to mean comparison to "usual" homicide cases. In recent cases, the Finnish Supreme Court has not considered a single axe stroke on the head, or strangulation to be "especially brutal or cruel". On the other hand, causing death by jumping on a person's chest and head and firing over 10 times upon a person's torso have been considered to fulfill the standard.

Until 2006, a life sentence could be pardoned only by the president. However, since the 1960s, presidents have regularly given pardons to practically all offenders after a period of 12–15 years. In 2006, the legislation was changed so that all life sentences are reviewed by an appellate court after they have been executed for 12 years. If the convict is still deemed a danger to society, his or her case will be reviewed every two years after this. Involuntary confinement to a psychiatric institution may also result, sometimes after the sentence is served. The involuntary treatment ends when the psychiatrist decides so, or when a court decrees it no longer necessary in a periodical review.

If the prerequisites are not fulfilled, but the homicide has been deliberate and premeditated, the convict is sentenced for second degree murder (tappo) to a minimum of eight years in prison. There is also the crime of voluntary manslaughter (surma), which is a homicide under mitigating/extenuating circumstances, with the punishment of four to ten years. Involuntary manslaughter (kuolemantuottamus) has a maximum punishment of two years of imprisonment or fine (see day fine). Infanticide carries a punishment of at least four months and at most four years in prison.


In the Frenchmarker Penal Code murder is defined by the intentional killing of another person. Murder is punishable by
a maximum of 30 years of criminal imprisonment (no more than 20 years if the defendant is not sentenced to 30 years).
Assassination (murder with premeditation) and murder in some special case (if the victim is a child under 15, parents, people with disabilities, police officer etc.) are punished by a jail time up to life imprisonment (no more than 30 years if the defendant is not sentenced to life). In France except for recidivist the minimum sentence in criminal prosecution is one or two year of imprisonment, which may be suspended if the term of the sentence is under 5 years. Manslaughter is punishable by 15 years imprisonment, or 20 years with aggravating circumstances (the same that make a murderer eligible for life in jail).


In Germanymarker the term Mord (murder) is officially used for the intentional killing of another person, but only if the case is especially severe. The requirements can be read in § 211 of the German Criminal Code, Strafgesetzbuch (StGB).

Those qualifying circumstances are categorized into three groups:
  1. detestable motive
  2. detestable way of committing the crime
  3. detestable purpose/aim of the criminal.

Intentional killing that doesn't fall within those aggravating circumstances usually fulfills § 212 (Totschlag literally means "deathblow": similar to second-degree murder, however actually any case of killing that is not fulfilling the qualifications of murder as seen above - actually the same as Tötung (killing) in Swiss law).

The current form of § 211 StGB was created in the year 1941. Before that the differentiation between Mord (murder) and Totschlag (killing) was, that Mord was killing "with premeditation" ("mit Überlegung" - directly translated: with consideration, however that is just another legal word for the same concept) and Totschlag without (1871-1941). However this differentiation was considered too vague. The reform was orientated on discussions for the reform of the Swiss StGB, which also had the same differentiation. It took over the idea and mainly also the wording of the reform commission for the Swiss StGB headed by Stoss in 1896. With this version, the differentiation between Mord and Totschlag contains problems. This led to ongoing discussions in the legal community about the wording, the interpretation and also about a reform of the law.

If the victim of a killing earnestly wanted to be killed (for example, when suffering an incurable disease) the crime would be Tötung auf Verlangen (killing on demand, § 216 StGB) which would result in 6 months to 5 years in prison (usually suspended) – basically, mercy killing. In 2002, there was a cannibal case in which the offender, Armin Meiwes, claimed that the victim wanted to be killed. The court convicted him of "Totschlag", since they didn't see the qualifications of a murder. Both prosecution and defense appealed, the prosecution in order to reach a guilty of murder verdict, the defense in order to reduce the charge to killing on demand. The German "Bundesgerichtshof", the highest German court of appeal, eventually convicted him of murder.

If the killing was due to negligence it is punished according to § 222 StGB as fahrlässige Tötung (negligent homicide or manslaughter). Many cases in this field are car accidents due to negligence that result in the death of a person.

If the death is a negligent consequence of an intended act of violence, it is classified as Körperverletzung mit Todesfolge (injury resulting in death).


The penalty for Mord is lifelong imprisonment, which is usually suspended after 17–18 years (15 years minimum) on a probation of 5 years or if the court decided on a special gravity (Feststellung der besonderen Schwere der Schuld), the sentence can only be suspended much later, earliest after 18 years but usually after 22–23 years (the law states that a suspension after 15 years is not possible for "special gravity" crimes, but provides no explicit minimum served time).

The penalty for Totschlag is five to fifteen years in prison and in especially grave cases life time imprisonment (minimum sentence 15 years). Especially grave cases are very rare, because usually such case already fall under Mord (§ 211).

In lesser cases (minderschwerer Fall, § 213) the prison sentence is one to ten years.

The law itself gives one example for a minor case: the killing due to the provocation of the killed person, e.g. if the killed person has beaten the offender or one of his relatives or has severely insulted them and the killer acted under the influence of great anger.

The lesser case of Totschlag is similar.

Felony murder

German criminal law also knows the institute of the felony murder which also carries a life-long sentence, however only if a person is intentionally or negligently killed in the course of a robbery, a kidnapping or a sexual assault. Actually only if the killing was intended by the criminal it is called murder. Intention also includes cases where the criminal knows that the victim could die and simply takes that into account for other causes

Robbery with deadly outcome

If the killing was due to gross negligence the criminal can be punished for robbery with deadly outcome (Raub mit Todesfolge) according to § 251. The punishment is a lifetime prison sentence or a prison sentence not below 10 years. The same applies for rape with deadly outcome (§ 178: Vergewaltigung mit Todesfolge) and other crimes.

Attempted suicide

Attempted suicide and aiding (Beihilfe zur Selbsttötung) and abetting a person intent on killing himself are not punishable by German criminal law.

Capital punishment

Before 1949 the usual punishment for Mord (§ 211) in Germany was capital punishment, except in less severe cases. In 1949, the death penalty was abolished by the Grundgesetz in West Germany. In East Germanymarker the death penalty was abolished in 1987. After the 1950s it was very rarely used.

Hong Kong

The Offences Against the Person Ordinance (Cap.212) and the Homicide Ordinance (Cap.339) are the main statutes that govern homicide. However, no definition of any type of unlawful homicide is available in the Ordinances. As a result, common law definitions remain largely relevant to Hong Kong.


The definition of murder is identical to that in England and Wales.

The "year and a day" rule has also been abolished. Contrary to the position in England and Wales, there is no time limit beyond which the consent of the Secretary of Justice would be required.

The retention of intention to cause grievous bodily harm as a form of "malice aforethought" (the other form being the intention to kill) was challenged in the case HKSAR v Lau Cheong as being both insufficient in common law and in contrary to the Basic Law and the Bill of Rights. The five judges, sitting on the Court of Final Appealmarker, unanimously rejected both argments.

Murder carries a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment, except in relation to offenders under the age of 18 at the time of the murder, who are subject to a discretionary sentence.

Attempted Murder

The Offences Against the Person Ordinance prescribes a number of specific types of attempted murder, includng by using poison, wounding another (§ 10), by destroying or damaging building (§ 11), setting fire to or casting away ship (§ 12) and attempting to shoot or drown (§ 13), which are all punishable by life imprisonment.

Attempted murder by other means not specified in the statute (§ 14) shall be liable to imprisonment for life.


In Indiamarker according to the Indian Penal Code, 1860 Murder is defined as follows

Murder.--Except in the cases hereinafter excepted, culpable homicide is murder, if the act by which the death is caused is done with the intention of causing death,or- 167 2ndly.-If it is done with the intention of causing such bodily injury as the offender knows to be likely to cause the death of the person to whom the harm is caused.or- 3rdly.-If it is done with the intention of causing bodily injury to any person and the bodily injury intended to be inflicted is sufficient in the ordinary course of nature to cause death,or- 4thly.-If the person committing the act knows that it is so imminently dangerous that it must, in all probability, cause death, or such bodily injury as is likely to cause death, and commits such act without any excuse for incurring the risk of causing death or such injury as aforesaid.

On the other hand, culpable homicide is defined as

... by causing death of person other than person whose death was intended.--If a person, by doing anything which he intends or knows to be likely to cause death, commits culpable homicide by causing the death of any person, whose death he neither intends nor knows himself to be likely to cause, the culpable homicide committed by the offender is of the description of which it would have been if he had caused the death of the person whose death he intended or knew himself to he likely to cause

Indian Penal Code, 1860


Israelmarker had 173 murders in 2004, compared to 147 murders in 2000. Two particular characteristics of homicide in Israel are the terrorist attacks and (so called) honor killings.

There are five types of homicide in Israel:
  1. Murder - The premeditated killing of a person, or the intentional killing of a person whilst committing, preparing for, or escaping from any crime, is murder. The mandatory punishment for this crime is life imprisonment. Life is usually commuted (clemency from the President) to 30 years from which a third can be deducted by the parole board for good behaviour. Arab terrorists are not usually granted pardons or parole other than as part of deals struck with Arab terrorist organisations or foreign governments and in exchange for captured Israelis or their corpses.
  2. Reduced sentence murder - If the murderer did not fully understand his actions because of mental defect (but not legal insanity or imbecility), or in circumstances close to self-defence, necessity or duress or where the murderer suffered from serious mental distress because of long-term abuse, the court can give a sentence of less than life. This is a new addition to the Israeli penal code and has been rarely used.
  3. Manslaughter - The deliberate killing of a person without premeditation (or the other circumstances of murder) is manslaughter for which the maximum sentence is 20 years. The sentence depends on the particular circumstances of the crime and its perpetrator.
  4. Negligent killing or vehicular killing - Maximum sentence is 3 years (minimum of 11 months for the driver). The perpetrator in this situation can expect to receive some jail time of about 6 – 12 months.
  5. Infanticide - The killing of a baby less than 12 months old by its mother where she can show that she was suffering from the effects of the birth or breast-feeding. Maximum sentence is 5 years.


By Italianmarker law, murder (omicidio) is regulated by articles 575-582, 584-585, and 589 of the Penal Code (Codice Penale).

In general, according to Art.575, "whoever causes the death of a human being is punishable by no less than 21 years in prison"; nevertheless, the law indicates a series of circumstances under which murder has to be punished with life in prison.

It must also be noted that, according to Italian law, any sentence of more than 5 years perpetually deprives (Interdizione perpetua dai Pubblici Uffici) the condemned person of: the voting rights; the ability to exercise any public office; the ability to be employed in any governmental or para-statal position (articles 19, 28, 29). The convict for life is also deprived of his/her quality of parent: the children are either given in custody to the other parent or hosted in a public structure (art.32).

In detail, according to articles 576 and 577 is punishable with life imprisonment murder committed:
  1. In order to commit another crime, or in order to escape, of favor, or take advantage from another crime (art.61, sect.2);
  2. Against a next of kin (parent or child) and either through insidious means, with premeditation, cruelly, of for futile motives;
  3. By a fugitive in order to escape capture, or in order to acquire means of subsistence;
  4. While raping or sexually assaulting a person (articles 519, 520, 521).
  5. In a cruel way and/or through the use of torture (art.61, sect.1);
  6. For abject and/or futile motives (art.61, sect.4);
  7. Against a next of kin (parent or child);
  8. Through insidious means;
  9. With premeditation.
Cases 1 through 4 (art.576) used to be considered capital murder, and therefore punishable by death by firing squad. Since 1946, though, death penalty was discontinued in Italy, and death was substituted with life imprisonment. Sentences for murder under cases 5 through 9 (art.577). instead, are subject to parole or probation.A person that is serving a life sentence can reach libertà condizionata

Besides the criminal murder detailed above, in Italian law the following cases also exist:

  1. Infanticide - (Infanticidio in condizioni di abbandono materiale e morale), murder of the infant immediately following the birth committed by the mother who is in conditions of material or moral disorder, is punishable with a sentence between 4 and 12 years (art. 578).
  2. Killing on demand - (Omicidio del consenziente), the action to kill someone with his/her consent, is punishable with a sentence between 6 and 15 years. This, however, is considered murder if the victim, when giving his/her consent, was under the age of 18, intoxicated, mentally disabled, or if the consent was obtained through violence, menace, or deception (art.579).
  3. Assistance or instigation of suicide - (Istigazione o aiuto al suicidio), the action to help someone to commit suicide, or to convince someone to commit suicide, is punishable with a sentence between 5 and 12 years if the suicide succeeds, or between 1 and 5 years if it does not succeed but a body injury has been made. This, however, is considered murder if the suicide is under the age of 14 (art.580).
  4. Injury resulting in death - (Omicidio preterintenzionale) occurs when, as a result of a deliberated act of violence not meant to kill (articles 581,582), the death of a person occurs. This crime is punishable with a sentence between 10 and 18 years (art.584). This sentence can be increased from one third to one half (up to 27 years) if a circumstance stated by articles 576 and 577 occurs, or if a weapon is used (art.585).
  5. Manslaughter - (Omicidio colposo), the action of causing the death of a person without intention, is punished with a sentence between 6 months and 5 years. If the victims are more than one as a consequence of the same act, multiple counts can be added up to 12 years in prison (art.589).

The Netherlands

By Dutchmarker law, murder (moord) is punishable by a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, which is the longest prison sentence the law allows. A common misconception is that the maximum sentence is 30 years (20 until 2006): this is the longest sentence that can be imposed other than life imprisonment. A life sentence is given 4 to 5 times a year on average and currently over 30 people are serving a life sentence in the Netherlands. They will all die in prison unless given parole by either Queen Beatrix or her successor. The average sentence is 12 to 15 years. In addition to a prison sentence, the judge may sentence the suspect to TBS, or 'terbeschikkingstelling', meaning detention in a psychiatric institution, sometimes including forced treatment. TBS is imposed for a number of years (most often in relation to the severity of the crime) and thereafter prolonged if deemed necessary by a committee of psychiatrists. This can be done indefinitely, and has therefore been criticized as being a life sentence in disguise. Voluntary manslaughter (doodslag) is punishable by a prison sentence of up to 15 years, or life imprisonment when committed during the commission of a crime or as an act of terrorism. Involuntary manslaughter (dood door schuld) is punishable by a prison sentence of up to two years. If involuntary manslaughter is caused by recklessness, the maximum sentence that can be imposed is four years.


In Norwaymarker any act of murder (mord or drap) is generally split into three categories; planned murder, intentional murder or murder as a result of neglect.

Categories of murder

  1. Planned murder or First Degree Murder - (overlagt drap) is a murder committed with the intention of taking the life of another, by a person fully sane and aware of what he or she is doing, and having planned the act of murder ahead. Planned murder is punished with up to 21 years of imprisonment. Under special circumstances, like a murder of severe cruelty, or if there is reason to believe the offender may commit murder again, additional years of imprisonment can be given. LOV-1902-05-22-10 Almindelig borgerlig Straffelov (Straffeloven) This usually takes place at a court hearing near the end of the sentence.
  2. Intentional murder or Second Degree Murder - (forsettlig drap) is a murder committed with the intention of taking the life of another, by a person fully sane and aware of what he or she is doing, without the act of murder having been planned ahead. Murder of passion usually falls into this category. Intentional murder is punished by 6 to 12 years of imprisonment. LOV-1902-05-22-10 Almindelig borgerlig Straffelov (Straffeloven)
  3. Murder as a result of neglect or manslaughter - (uaktsomt drap) is defined as a case where someone has been killed as a result of the offenders neglect. For example, a car driver may be convicted for murder if someone is killed as a result of his or her careless driving. Murder as a result of neglect is punishable by 3 to 6 years, depending on the circumstances. LOV-1902-05-22-10 Almindelig borgerlig Straffelov (Straffeloven)

Other forms of murder

Assisted suicide is generally illegal in Norway, and will in most cases be treated as planned murder, although the punishment may be milder depending on the circumstances.

Euthanasia (aktiv dødshjelp) has been much debated in Norway. Some groups have expressed that it should be legal in cases where the victim is sane and fully aware of what he or she is asking for. Acts of euthanasia, however, are illegal, and are treated as any other form of assisted suicide.



The Portuguese Penal Code was adopted in 1982 and has been revised on several occasions, most recently in 2007. It devotes a whole chapter on "crimes against human life". In fact, the very first crime addressed on that code is murder.

The Portuguese Constitution (adopted in 1976) expressly forbids the death penalty (art. 24, § 2) and life imprisonment (art. 30, § 1). Additionally, since 1997, the Constitution does not allow the extradition of anyone who would be subject to any of those two forms of punishment at the requesting country. Unless binding assurances are given that the suspect will not be sentenced to either death penalty or life imprisonment, the extradition must be rejected.

Additionally, the Penal Code states that no person may be sentenced to a prison term longer than 25 years, whichever crimes he or she has been found guilty of committing. Therefore, a multiple murderer - no matter how many actual homicides - will not serve more than 25 years in prison. Likewise, in the case murder is committed in addition to other felonies, the defendant will be sentenced to a single prison term, for a period no longer than 25 years, encompassing the applicable terms for each crime committed.

It should also be mentioned that, according the Portuguese Penal Code, only very rarely will a sentence of less than 5-years imprisonment be enforced. In fact, article 75, § 1, states that if an offence is punishable by a prison term or another non-detentive form of punishment, the court should opt for the non-detentive punishment "if this punishment will satisfy adequately the objectives of the criminal law."

Therefore, someone convicted to up to 5 years in prison will be put on probation or (if the sentence if for less than 3 years) will simply have the prison sentence suspended. If the convicted felon commits another intentional crime during the period of suspension or probation, he or she will serve fully the prison term. Probation or term-suspension usually will only be denied in the case of criminals with very long criminal records.


Intentional murder, or homicide, is split into two categories, much like the American classification of murder in the first degree and murder in the second degree discussed above.

Homicide, or wilful and intentional murder (art. 131 of the Penal Code), is punishable with a prison sentence of no less than 8 years and no longer than 16 years.

Aggravated homicide(art. 132 of the Penal Code) is considered any wilful and intentional act in which death is provoked under particularly censurable or malicious circumstances, and is punishable with a prison term of no less than 12 and no longer than 25 years.

The following circumstances are adequate to constitute a case of aggravated homicide:
a) When the murderer is a descendant or an ascendant, either by blood or adoption, of the victim.
b) When the victim is the spouse, former spouse, or person of the same or different with sex with whom the felon had a marital relationship, even if not a member of the same household, or the other parent of the son or daughter of the felon.
c) When the victim is especially defenceless, due to his/her age, handicap, illness or pregnancy.
d) When the murder employs torture or other act of cruelty to enhance the victim's sufferance.
e) When the murder is determined by greed, by the pleasure of causing death or suffering, for personal enjoyment or sexual gratification or any other futile motive.
f) When the murder is determined by racial, religious or political hatred or motivated by the colour, ethnical or national origin, sex or the sexual orientation of the victim.
g) When the murder takes place in order to prepare, facilitate, execute or dissimulate another crime, or to facilitate the escape from the authorities.
h) When the act is carried out in conjunction with, at least, another two people or when an especially dangerous mean is used to cause death.
i) When poison or any other insidious mean is used to cause death.
j) When the intent to commit murder has persisted for longer than 24 hours.
l) When the victim is the holder of public office, a docent, a minister of any religious cult, a judge or referee of any federated sport, and the act is related and caused by the exercise of said functions.
m) When the murderer is a public servant (e.g. a police officer) and the act takes place with serious abuse of authority.

Other than homicide and aggravated homicide, the Penal Code also has provisions for other forms of intentionally and unlawfully causing someone's death:
  • Privileged homicide (art. 133) - when the murder takes place under an understandable violent emotion, compassion, despair or other socially or morally relevant motive, such as to significantly diminish the murderer's degree of guilt. Punishment in this case is prison for 1 to 5 years.
  • Homicide by request (art. 134) - when the murder is carried out at the serious, constant and explicit request of the victim. Punishment is prison for 6 months to 3 years.
  • Inciting or assisting suicide (art. 135) - if someone incites or assists another person to commit suicide, he or she is sentenced to prison for 6 months to 3 years. The punishment is increased to a prison term of 1 to 5 year, in the case the victim is under 16 years old or has, in any way, his or her capacity impaired.
  • Infanticide (art. 136) - when the mother, under the disturbing influence of delivering the baby, commits murder while delivering it, or immediately afterwards. Punishment is 1 to 5 years imprisonment.
  • Abortion (art. 140) - abortion carried out without the consent of the pregnant woman is punishable with imprisonment for 2 to 8 years. Abortion with the consent of the pregnant woman carries a prison term of 6 months to 3 years; the same penalty applying to the woman consenting to the abortion. However, abortion is not punishable if carried out at a registered clinic or hospital, at the request of the pregnant woman, until the tenth week of pregnancy (or later, in some circumstances).


Manslaughter, which art. 136 of the Penal Code refers to as homicide caused by negligence, is punishable with a prison term of no less than 6 months and no longer than 3 years, or a fine. If the death is caused by gross negligence the penalty the prison term is of 6 months to 5 years.

Additionally, unintentionally causing someone's death while committing a crime other than homicide is an aggravating factor in the determination of the punishment applicable to that specific crime. For example, if the crime of abandonment (exposing a defenceless person to a situation in which he or she will not to be able to cope with, therefore causing harm to the victim) results in the victim's death, the punishment is 3 to 10 years imprisonment, whereas the normal penalty would be 1 to 5 years. In another example, aggravated assault resulting in the death of the victim is punishable with 3 to 13 years imprisonment, whereas the usual penalty would be 2 to 10 years.

Conditional liberty

Inmates are usually not required to serve fully their prison terms. The Penal Code allows for the possibility of releasing them on conditional liberty ("liberdade condicional"), or parole.

Parole is granted once one-half of the term has been served if both the following requirements are met:
  • One would reasonably expect the inmate, given the circumstances of his or her life, previous conduct, personality and evolution during incarceration, to behave in a socially responsible way without committing crimes, if released.
  • The release of the convict will not endanger the public order nor aggravate the community.

If the second requirement is not met (which would be the case when the particular crime has cause huge uproar in the community), the inmate will be released once two-thirds of the prison term have been served, as long as the inmate is reasonably expected to behave in a socially responsible way without committing crimes, if released.

Even if the inmate is not expected to behave in a socially responsible way, he or she is released once five sixths of the prison terms have been served, unless the inmate refuses to be released.

Parole last for the remaining period of the unserved prison term, but no longer than 5 years. Once the period of parole is fully served in a satisfactory manner, the remaining unserved prison sentence is declared void.

Status of convicts and felons

Convicts and felons may not suffer any effect from their criminal conviction other than deprivation of liberty for the period of incarceration, unless the sentence specifically establishes other effects in a direct and reasonable relationship with the offence committed. Convicts do not lose any right or entitlement due to their conviction, namely political rights. In fact, on election day polling stations are set up at the major prison establishments so that inmates may exercise their right to vote, if they so wish.

Any criminal conviction registered on the felon’s criminal record is stricken after a certain period of time, depending on the gravity of the offence. In the case of murder, this fact would be stricken from the murderer's criminal record once 15 years have elapsed from fully serving his or hers sentence without committing any other offence.


According to the Romanianmarker Penal Code, a person can face a penalty ranging from 10 to 25 years or life imprisonment for murder. (There are also mandatory restrictions of some constitutional rights for all types of murder.)

Degrees of murder

  • Murder - (3rd degree)(10 to 20 years) Killing a person when no aggravating circumstances apply.
  • Qualified murder (2nd degree)(15 to 25 years). Aggravating circumstances:
a) with premeditation
b) concerning a material interest
c) against spouse or close relative
d) taking advantage of victim's impossibility of self-defence
e) when putting in danger the lives of multiple persons
f) concerning job attributions of the victim
g) for facilitating or hiding another crime
h) in public
  • Extremely grave murder (1st degree) (15 to 25 years or life imprisonment). Aggravating circumstances:
a) committed in a cruel way
b) against two or more persons
c) by a person who had already committed a murder
d) in order to hide a robbery
e) against a pregnant woman
f) against a policeman, gendarme, magistrate or soldier (in connection with their public duties)
  • Negligent or accidental murder (1 to 5 years in simple form). Aggravating circumstances:
a) Caused by a professional in connection with his job for not respecting the legal dispositions (2 to 7 years)
b) By a vehicle driver with blood alcohol concentration (BAC) above legal limits or in a drunk state (5 to 15 years)
c) By a professional in a drunk state - in connection with his job duties (5 to 15 years)
d) When causing the death of two or more persons (5 to 15 years)
  • Infanticide (2 to 7 years).


According to the modern Russianmarker Criminal Code, only intentional killing of another human considered as a murder (Russian убийство). The following types of murder are defined:
  • Murder per se (article 105 of Criminal Code):
    • common corpus delicti (with no aggravating circumstances listed below). Punished with a sentence between 6 and 15 years
    • qualified corpus delicti. Punished with a sentence between 8 and 20 years, or life, or death penalty. Aggravating circumstances:
a) against two or more persons;
b) against person on public duty or their relatives;
c) killing of hostage, kidnapped or helpless person;
d) killing of pregnant;
e) committed in a cruel way;
f) committed in a socially dangerous way;
g) motivated by a blood feud (vendetta);
h) committed by a group;
i) for a profit, including contract killing, or connected with a robbery or racket;
j) with a rowdy motive;
k) to cover or secure another crime,
l) connected with a rape or sexual assault;
m) hate crime;
n) with the view to use organs or tissues of victim.
  • Privileged types of murder:
    • Of newborn child by mother (article 106 of Criminal Code), punished with a sentence up to 5 years.
    • In affect state (art. 107), up to 3 years (up to 5 years for multiple killing).
    • Exceeding reasonable level of self defense (art. 108), up to 2 years.

There are some other articles of criminal code, that provide special punishment for crimes connected with intentional kills:
  • seizure of hostages;
  • terrorism;
  • sabotage;
- punished with a sentence between 15 and 20 years, or life.
  • genocide;
  • encroachment on person on public or government duty;
  • encroachment on law officer or soldier.
- punished with a sentence between 12 and 20 years, or life, or death penalty.

Separately considered actions that cause unpremeditated death of another person:
  • accident killing (art. 108, punished with a limitation of freedom or imprisonment up to 5 years - depends on circumstances);
  • death in a traffic accident (art. 263-264, punished with an imprisonment up to 9 years if aggravating circumstances such as alcohol or drugs intoxication or multiply victims exist, also provided disqualification from driving)

Assault that has no purpose to kill, but causes a death of victim, formally is not considered as a murder, but punishment for it almost not distinguished from common murder (art. 111 part 4 provides punishment with a sentence between 5 and 15 years, so only lower limit of punishment slightly easier).

Article 110 of the criminal code also provides punishment for driving a person to suicide (by blackmail, threats or cruelty).

Murder (or its qualified types listed above) is only reason for the death penalty in modern Russia. From 2 February 1999 till 1 January 2010 a moratorium on the death penalty is in effect, with life sentence used instead.


In Switzerlandmarker murder (Mord, Assassinat or Assassinio respectively in German, French or Italian) is also used for the premeditated killing of another person, but only if the motives are cruel, disgusting or show an overall disrespect of human life. Penalty ranges from ten years to life in prison.

Furthermore, homicide is considered murder if it is cruel (e.g. inflicts great pain on the victim) and/or unusual, done so using explosives or arson, or if it is done to satisfy perverse lusts.

Any homicide not meeting these standards is considered to be a killing (Tötung, Meurtre or Omicidio), and the penalty is not as heavy. Most homicides in Switzerland are considered killings, with the penalty ranging from 5 to 20 years.

The Swiss equivalent for manslaughter is Totschlag, Meurtre passionel or Omicidio passionale. Killers are sentenced for Totschlag when they committed the crime in a very, and especially excusable, state of excitement (a "crime of passion"). For example, a wife who's been mistreated by her husband for years, and kills him in a fit of rage, would be sentenced for Totschlag. The penalty is one to ten years in prison.

There are many other privileged variants of killing, similar to manslaughter, such as killing on demand of the "victim"; or assisted suicide, in which case the punishment is considerably lower; this latter is only punishable if there are selfish motives. The "assisted suicide" in general is not punishable.

The relevant articles of the Swiss Penal Code (Strafgesetzbuch) are 111 to 117 (and in a certain measure, 118 to 120), which can be read in the Swiss Penal Code, second book, in French, Italian, or German.


In Swedenmarker, the following degrees of murder apply:

  • Murder (Mord) is defined as "taking the life of another", and punishable with imprisonment for was until recently 10 years (now it's 18 years) or for life. (3-1 § of the Penal Code)
  • Manslaughter (Dråp) is murder that is considered less serious, either due to the circumstances or the crime itself, punishable with a fixed prison term between 6 and 10 years. (3-2 §)
  • Infanticide (Barnadråp) is murder committed by a mother on her child "when, owing to her confinement, she is in a disturbed mental state or in grave distress", punishable with any prison term up to 6 years. (3-3 §)
  • Negligent homicide (Vållande till annans död, literally causing another's death) is murder committed due to carelessness. For negligent homicide, there are three types of punishments:
    1. A fine (day-fines) if the crime is petty,
    2. Any prison term up to 2 years, or
    3. Any prison term between 6 months and 6 years if the crime is gross. Gross negligence is distinguished by "the taking of a considerable risk leading to the death, or driving a motor vehicle under influence leading to the death". (3-7 §)

The Swedish Minister of Justice, Beatrice Ask, has recently criticized the current system of punishment for murder, as "persons eligible for sentences higher than 10 years instead are sentenced to that term rather than life imprisonment". Instead, a term of 18 years imprisonment are considered to be inserted. Currently, the murder and infanticide laws originate from 1962, while the law of negligent homicide was altered in 1993.

United States

In the United Statesmarker, the principle of dual sovereignty applies to homicide, as to other crimes. If murder is committed within the borders of a state, that state has jurisdiction. If the victim is a federal official, an ambassador, consul or other foreign official under the protection of the United States, or if the crime took place on federal property or involved crossing state lines, or in a manner that substantially affects interstate commerce or national security, then the Federal Government also has jurisdiction. If a crime is not committed within any state, then Federal jurisdiction is exclusive: examples include the District of Columbiamarker, naval or U.S.-flagged merchant vessels in international waters, or a U.S. military base. In cases where a murder involves both state and federal jurisdiction, the offender can be tried and punished separately for each crime without raising issues of double jeopardy, unless the court believes that the new prosecution is merely a "sham" forwarded by the prior prosecutor.

Modern codifications tend to create a genus of offenses, known collectively as homicide, of which murder is the most serious species, followed by manslaughter which is less serious, and ending finally in justifiable homicide, which is not a crime at all. Because there are 51 jurisdictions, each with its own criminal code, this section treats only the crime of murder, and does not deal with state-by-state specifics.

At base, murder consists of an intentional unlawful act with a design to kill and fatal consequences. Generally, an intention to cause great bodily harm is considered indistinguishable from an intention to kill, as is an act so inherently dangerous that any reasonable person would realize the likelihood of fatality. Thus, if the defendant hurled the victim from a bridge, it is no defense to argue that harm was not contemplated, or that the defendant hoped only to break bones.

Murder is the unlawful killing of human being with malice aforethought. Malice can be expressed (intent to kill) or implied. Implied malice is proven by acts that involve reckless indifference to human life or in a death that occurs during the commission of certain felonies (the felony murder rule). The exact terms of the felony murder vary tremendously from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Life sentencing for murder in the United States has a mean of 349 months (29 years one month) and a median of 480 months (40 years). However, some states' sentencings contemplate a full life's confinement, whence the sentence of confinement is not deemed fulfilled while the convicted person lives; and the only way to fulfill the sentence (and thereby obtain release from confinement) is by the individuals death. These sentences are termed natural life and/or life without the possibility of parole.

Degrees of murder in the United States

Before the famous case of Furman v. Georgia in 1972, most states distinguished two degrees of murder. While the rules differed by state, a reasonably common scheme was that of Pennsylvaniamarker, passed in 1794: "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 the perpetration or attempt to perpetrate, any arson, rape, robbery, or burglary, shall be deemed murder of the first degree (or capital murder in some states that carry the death penalty); and all other kinds of murder shall be deemed murder of the second degree." "Murder one", as the term was popularized by novels and television, carried a penalty of death, or life in prison, while the penalty for "murder two" was generally around 80 years in prison. After the Supreme Court placed new requirements on the imposition of the death penalty, most states adopted one of two schemes. In both, third degree murder became the catch-all, while first degree murder was split. The difference was whether some or all first degree murders should be eligible for the most serious penalty (generally death, but sometimes life in prison without the possibility of parole).
  • The first scheme, used by Pennsylvaniamarker and the most common among other states:
#First Degree Murder: An intentional killing by means of poison, or by lying in wait, or by any other kind of willful, deliberate and premeditated action.
#Second Degree Murder: Homicide committed by an individual engaged as a principal or an accomplice in the perpetration of a felony.
#Third Degree Murder: Any other murder (e.g. when the intent was not to kill, but to harm the victim).
#First Degree Murder: Murder involving special circumstances, such as murder of a police officer, judge, fireman or witness to a crime; multiple murders; and torture or especially heinous murders. Note that a "regular" premeditated murder, absent such special circumstances, is not a first-degree murder; murders by poison or "lying in wait" are not per se first-degree murders. First degree murder is pre-meditated. However, the New York Court of Appealsmarker struck down the death penalty as unconstitutional in the case of People v. LaValle, because of the statute's direction on how the jury was to be instructed in case of deadlock in the penalty phase.
#Second Degree Murder: Any premeditated murder or felony murder that does not involve special circumstances.

Schemes similar to Pennsylvania's are used in California and Massachusetts. A scheme similar to New York's is used in Texas, but first degree murder is called "capital murder".

Other states use the term "capital murder" for those offenses that merit death, and the term is often used even in states whose statutes do not include the term. As of 2009, 35 states and the federal government have laws allowing capital punishment for certain murders and related crimes (such as treason, terrorism, and espionage). The penalty is rarely asked for and more rarely imposed, but it has generated tremendous public debate. See also capital punishment and capital punishment in the United States.

In death penalty-states with the New-York scheme, first degree murder itself is eligible for the death penalty. In death penalty-states with the Pennsylvania scheme, first-degree murder must involve an additional aggravating factor for being eligible for the death penalty.

Punishment for murder

Offense Mandatory sentencing
Second degree murder Imprisonment for life or any term
Second degree murder by an inmate, even escaped, serving a life sentence Life imprisonment
First degree murder Death or life imprisonment

By states

Fetal homicide in the United States

Fetal homicide laws in the United States
Under the common law, an assault on a pregnant woman resulting in a stillbirth was not considered murder; the child had to have breathed at least once to be a human being. Remedies were limited to criminal penalties for the assault on the mother and tort action for loss of the anticipated economic services of the lost child and/or for emotional pain and suffering. With the widespread adoption of laws against abortion, the assailant could be charged with that offense, but the penalty was often only a fine and a few days in jail.

When the Supreme Courtmarker greatly reduced laws prohibiting abortions in Roe v. Wade (1973) those sanctions became harder to use. This meant that an assault which ensured that the baby never breathed would result in a lesser charge. Various states passed "fetal homicide" laws, making killing of an unborn child murder; the laws differ about the stage of development at which the child is protected. After several well-publicized cases, Congress passed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which specifically criminalizes harming a fetus, with the same penalties as for a similar attack upon a person, when the attack would be a federal offense. Most such attacks fall under state laws; for instance, Scott Peterson was convicted of killing his unborn son as well as his wife under California's pre-existing fetal homicide law.

Vikings (8th to 11th centuries)

The Viking culture had a very different concept of murder. If a person killed someone, then it was up to the murderer to pay the family fair compensation (weregild) for the labor lost by the member's death. If the perpetrator refused to pay weregild, it was up to the family of the slain to extract it from the perpetrator, or take his life. In Nordic countries, the payment of weregild was used in homicide cases until the 16th century.

The only other type of killing with consequences in Viking culture was "unjust killing", i.e. killing someone while they were sleeping or had their back to the killer. While the financial implications of unjust killing were no more severe, the killer in question suffered from a tremendous loss of trust and could be declared an outlaw.

See also


  1. Definition of murderer in Merriam Webster's Online Dictionary (2009). Retrieved on 2009-05-17.
  2. Usage note for -ess in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition (2000). Retrieved on 2009-05-17.
  3. Vulgate Deuteronomy Ch27 V24
  4. Parallel Hebrew Old Testament Deuteronomy Ch27 V24
  5. Parallel Hebrew Old Testament Exodus ch20v13
  6. Killing in the Bible.
  7. American Speech - McCarthy, Kevin M.. Volume 48, pp. 77-83
  8. Secret Societies Handbook, Michael Bradley,Altair Cassell Illustrated, 2005. ISBN 978-1844034161
  9. Thug: the true story of India's murderous cult by Mike Dash, The Independent
  10. Thuggee (Thagi) (13th C. to ca. 1838)
  11. Hassig, Ross (2003). "El sacrificio y las guerras floridas". Arqueología mexicana, p. 46-51.
  12. The Enigma of Aztec Sacrifice
  13. Science and Anthropology
  14. Blackstone, Book 4, Chapter 14
  15. A Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage By Bryan A. Garner, pg. 545.
  16. Margaret Otlowski, Voluntary Euthanasia and the Common Law, Oxford University Press, 1997, pp. 175-177
  17. R. v. M'Naughten, get full cite.
  18. , note: this text refer to the procedure of Involuntary commitment by the demand of the public authority, but the prefect systematically use that procedure whenever a man is discharged due to his dementia.
  19. Appel, Jacob M. When Infanticide Isn't Murder
  20. Proposed Texas House bill would recognize postpartum psychosis as a defense for moms who kill infants
  21. (the so-called "Twinkie defense").
  22. Rogers v. Tennessee, .
  23. WHO: 1.6 million die in violence annually
  24. FBI web site
  26. Brazil murder rate similar to war zone, data shows
  27. Colombia's Uribe wins second term
  28. Twentieth Century Atlas - Homicide
  29. Jamaica "murder capital of the world"
  30. Canada's National Statistical Agency:Homicides
  31. Crime Statistics
  32. [1]
  33. Disaster Center web site
  34. Why Fewer Murder Cases Get Solved These Days by Lewis Beale. 19 May 2009.
  35. CS Monitor by Brian Whitley. Christian Science Monitor. 24 Dec 2008.
  36. Crimes Act 1900 - Section 18 Murder and manslaughter defined
  37. Crimes Act 1900 §§ 27-30
  38. Crimes Act 1900 § 23
  39. Crimes Act 1958 - Section 3B Provocation no longer a partial defence to murder
  40. Criminal Code of Canada, s. 222
  41. Criminal Code of Canada, s. 229
  42. Criminal Code of Canada, R.S., 1985, c. C-46, s. 231; R.S., 1985, c. 27 (1st Supp.), ss. 7, 35, 40, 185(F), c. 1 (4th Supp.), s. 18(F); 1997, c. 16, s. 3, c. 23, s. 8; 2001, c. 32, s. 9, c. 41, s. 9.
  43. Criminal Code
  44. Criminal Code of Canada, R.S., c. C-34, s. 217.
  45. Criminal Code of Canada, R.S., c. C-34, s. 216.
  46. R. v. Nette (S.C.C.)
  47. 2520Sentencing%2520continued Parole eligibility, secs 745, 745.1
  48. Youth Criminal Justice Act, ss 42(2)(q),(r)
  49. Chinese Penalty Law (Simplified Chinese)
  50. Law Reform Act 1996, s1
  51. House of Lords - Regina v. Woollin
  53. For more details, see Armin Meiwes.
  56. Offences Against the Person Ordinance (Cap.212) s.33C
  57. [2002] 3 HKC 146
  58. Offences Against the Person Ordinance (Cap.212) s.2
  60. Israeli government web sitePdf
  61. French language version of Swiss Penal Code
  62. Italian language version of Swiss Penal Code
  63. German language version of Swiss Penal Code
  64. 1998 version of the Penal Code
  65. Koon v. United States, 518 U.S. 81 (1996)
  66. US Dept. of Justice: Felony Defendants in Large Urban Counties, 2002
  67. Electronic Law Library definition
  69. See, e.g., N.Y.State Penal Law section 125.27, found at N.Y. State Legislative web site (search for Penal Law § 125.27).
  70. See, e.g., N.Y. State Penal Law section 125.25, found at N.Y. State Legislative web site (search for Penal Law § 125.25).
  72. May Damages Be Recovered by a Non-Resident Alien for the Death of a Son? University of Pennsylvania Law Review and American Law Register, Vol. 57, No. 3, Volume 48 New Series (December 1908), pages 171-173 doi:10.2307/3313315


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