Murder in the United States

Murder Definition

In criminal law. The willful killing of any subject whatever, with malice aforethought, whether the person (according to the definition of Murder based on the The Cyclopedic Law Dictionary ) slain shall be an Englishman or a foreigner. Hawk. P. C. bk. 1, c. 13, S 3. Russell says, the killing of any person under the king’s peace, with malice prepense or aforethought, either express or implied by law. 1 Russ. Crimes, 421; 5 Cush. (Mass.) 304. 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. 3 Inst. 47. This latter definition, which has been adopted by Blackstone (4 Comm. 195), Chitty (2 Crim. Law, 724), and others, has been severely criticized. What, it has been asked, are sound memory and understanding? What has soundness of memory to do with the act? Be it ever so imperfect, how does it affect the guilt? If discretion is necessary, can the crime ever be committed? For is it not the highest indiscretion in a man to take the life of another, and thereby expose his own? If the person killed be an idiot or a new-born infant, is he a reasonable creature? Who is in the king’s peace? What is malice aforethought? Can there be any malice afterthought? Livingston, Pen. Law, 186,

It is, however, apparent that some of the criticisms are merely verbal, and others are answered by the construction given in the various cases to the requirements of the definition. See, especially, 5 Cush. (Mass.) 304. According to Coke’s definition, there must be: First, sound mind and memory in the agent. By this is understood there must be a will and legal discretion. Second, 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 prove fatal. Hawk. P. C. bk. 1, c. 31, § 4; 1 Hale, P. C. 431; 1 Ashm. (Pa.) 289; 9 Car. & P. 356; 2 Palmer, 545. Third, 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 cord, such killing will be murder. 2 Bouv. Inst, note 1722. Foeticide would not be such a killing; he must have been in rerum natura. Fourth, malice, either express or implied. It is this circumstance which distingushes murder from every description of homicide. See Malice. In some of the states, by legislative enactments, murder has been divided into degrees, according to the degree of premeditation.

Second Degree Murder in Florida and some other States

To prove the crime of Second Degree Murder, the State must prove the following three elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  1. The victim is dead
  2. The death was caused by the criminal act of the accussed
  3. There was an unlawful killing of the victin by an act imminently dangerous to another and demonstrating a depraved mind without regard for human life.

An “act” includes a series of related actions arising from and performed pursuant to a single design or purpose.

An act is “imminently dangerous to another and demonstrating a depraved mind” if it is an act or series of acts that:

  • a person of ordinary judgment would know is reasonably certain to kill or do serious bodily injury to another, and
  • is done from ill will, hatred, spite or an evil intent, and
  • is of such a nature that the act itself indicates an indifference to human life.

In order to convict of Second Degree Murder, it is not necessary for the State to prove the accussed had an intent to cause death

Murder in Foreign Legal Encyclopedias

Link Description
Murder Murder in the World Legal Encyclopedia.
Murder Murder in the European Legal Encyclopedia.
Murder Murder in the Asian Legal Encyclopedia.
Murder Murder in the UK Legal Encyclopedia.
Murder Murder in the Australian Legal Encyclopedia.

Practical Information

The unlawful killing of someone by deliberate design. In many states, legislative enactments have divided murder into degrees. First-degree murder is generally defined as the act of killing another with deliberate and premeditated design, or as killing another while in the act of committing a felony (in U.S. law) (see also felonymurder (in U.S. law)). Second-degree murder occurs where there is no deliberately formed design to kill; the idea of killing occurs instantaneously with the act. See also manslaughter (in U.S. law). (Revised by Ann De Vries)

What is Murder?

For a meaning of it, read Murder in the Legal Dictionary here. Browse and search more U.S. and international free legal definitions and legal terms related to Murder.

The United States First-Degree Murder Laws

Explanations of the United States first-degree murder law, an extremely serious crime felony, punishable by though judicial decisions in the United States (see also felony murder).


See Also

  • Crime
  • Criminology
  • Death
  • Dying
  • Morbidity
  • Mortality
  • Punishment
  • Capital Punishment
  • Criminal Law
  • Felony-Murder Rule
  • Homicide
  • Insanity Defense
  • Juvenile Law
  • Autopsy
  • Poisoning
  • Strangulation
  • Suffocation
  • Assassination
  • Infanticide
  • Patricide.

Further Reading (Books)

  • Beccaria, Cesare. 1983. An Essay on Crimes and Punishments. Brookline Village, MA: Branden. (Orig. pub. 1775.)
  • Bursik, Robert J., and Harold G. Grasmick. 1993. Neighborhoods and Crime: The Dimensions of Effective Community Control. New York: Lexington.
  • Buss, David M., and Joshua D. Duntley. 1998. Evolved Homicide Modules. Paper presented to the Annual Meeting of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society, Davis, CA.
  • Buss, David M., and Joshua D. Duntley. 1999. Killer Psychology: The Evolution of Intrasexual Homicide. Paper presented to the Annual Meeting of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society, Salt Lake City, UT.
  • Buss, David M., and Joshua D. Duntley. 2003. Homicide: An Evolutionary Perspective and Implications for Public Policy. In Violence and Public Policy, ed. N. E. Dess. Westport, CT: Greenwood.
  • Chagnon, Napoleon A. 1988. Life Histories, Blood Revenge, and Warfare in a Tribal Population. Science 239 (4843): 985-992.
  • Cloward, Richard A., and Lloyd E. Ohlin. 1960. Delinquency and Opportunity: A Theory of Delinquent Gangs. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.
  • Cornish, Derek B., and Ronald V. Clarke, eds. 1986. Introduction. In The Reasoning Criminal: Rational Choice Perspectives on Offending, 1-16. New York: Springer-Verlag.
  • Daly, Martin, and Margo Wilson. 1988. Homicide. New York: de Gruyter.
  • Ghiglieri, Michael Partick. 1999. The Dark Side of Man: Tracing the Origins of Violence. Reading, MA: Perseus.
  • Glueck, Sheldon, and Eleanor Glueck. 1950. Unraveling Juvenile Delinquency. New York: Commonwealth Fund.
  • Hodgins, Sheilagh. 1992. Mental Disorder, Intellectual Deficiency, and Crime. Evidence from a Birth Cohort. Archives of General Psychiatry 49 (6): 476-483.
  • Kenrick, Douglas T., and Virgil Sheets. 1993. Homicidal Fantasies. Ethology and Sociobiology 14: 231-246.
  • Lombroso-Ferrero, Gina. 1911. Criminal Man. New York: Putnam’s.


Further Reading (Articles)

Merton, Robert. 1938. Social Structure and Anomie. American Sociological Review 3: 672-682.

Messner, Steven F., and Richard Rosenfeld. 1994. Crime and the American Dream. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Monahan, John, Henry J. Steadman, Eric Silver, et al. 2001. Rethinking Risk Assessment: The MacArthur Study of Mental Disorder and Violence. New York: Oxford University Press.

Mungas, Dan. 1983. An Empirical Analysis of Specific Syndromes of Violent Behavior. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 171 (6): 354-361.

Paternoster, Raymond, and Alex Piquero. 1995. Reconceptualizing Deterrence: An Empirical Test of Personal and Vicarious Experiences. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 32 (3): 251-286.

Pinker, Steven. 1997. Why They Kill Their Newborns. New York Times, November 2.

Plomin, Robert, John C. DeFries, Peter McGuffin, and Gerald E. McClearn. 2001. Behavioral Genetics. 4th ed. New York: Worth.

Rowe, David C. 1994. The Limits of Family Influence. New York: Guilford.

Rowe, David C. 1996. An Adaptive Strategy Theory of Crime and Delinquency. In Delinquency and Crime: Current Theories, ed. J. David Hawkins, 268-314. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Rowe, David C., Alexander T. Vazsonyi, and Aurelio Jose Figueredo. 1997. Mating-Effort in Adolescence: A Conditional or Alternative Strategy. Personality and Individual Differences 23 (1): 105-115.

Rowe, David C., Alexander T. Vazsonyi, and Daniel J. Flannery. 1995. Sex Differences in Crime: Do Means and Within-Sex Variation Have Similar Causes? Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 32: 84-100.

Ruff, Julius R. 2001. Violence in Early Modern Europe 1500-1800. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Sampson, Robert J. 1993. The Community Context of Violent Crime. In Sociology and the Public Agenda, ed. William Julius Wilson, 274-279. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Further Reading (Articles 2)

Shaw, Clifford R., and Henry D. McKay. 1969. Juvenile Delinquency and Urban Areas: A Study of Rates of Delinquency in Relation to Differential Characteristics of Local Communities in American Cities. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Stafford, Mark, and Mark Warr. 1993. A Reconceptualization of General and Specific Deterrence. Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 30 (2): 123-135.

Stolinsky, S. A., and D. C. Stolinsky. 2000. Homicide and Suicide Rates Do Not Covary. Journal of Trauma, Injury, Infection, and Critical Care 48: 1168-1169.

Sutherland, Edwin H., and Donald R. Cressey. 1978. Criminology. Philadelphia: Lippincott.

Sykes, Gresham, and David Matza. 1957. Techniques of Neutralization: A Theory of Delinquency. American Sociological Review 22 (6): 664-670.

Tooby, John, and Leda Cosmides. 1988. The Evolution of War and Its Cognitive Foundations. Institute for Evolutionary Studies, Technical Report #88-1.

United Nations. 1998. United Nations 1996 Demographic Yearbook. New York: United Nations.

Walsh, Anthony, and Lee Ellis. 2006. Criminology: An Interdisciplinary Perspective. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Wilson, Margo, and Martin Daly. 1997. Life Expectancy, Economic Inequality, Homicide, and Reproductive Timing in Chicago Neighbourhoods. British Medical Journal 314: 1271-1274.

Witkin, Herman A., S. A. Mednick, F. Schulsinger, et al. 1976. XYY and XXY Men: Criminality and Aggression. Science 193 (4253): 547-555.

Joshua Duntley

Further Reading (Articles 3)

Murder-Parasuicide: A Case Series in Western Australia, Psychiatry, Psychology and Law; April 1, 2002; Brett, Adam

Murder Laws Set to Change, The Birmingham Post (England); July 22, 2005; Barrett, David

Murder Politics in Kerala, Tehelka; August 13, 2012

Murder charges filed against 2 in December Jefferson killings, The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV); August 14, 1999; Tom Searls

Murder 3 Collects Rs. 13.31 Crore in Opening Weekend, Hindustan Times (New Delhi, India); February 19, 2013

Murder Mysteries; Crime Statistics, The Economist (US); April 6, 2013


Murder charges for drunken driving on rise in US, AP Worldstream; September 28, 2010; GILLIAN FLACCUS

MURDER: END OF LIFE SENTENCES; US-Style Legal Shake-Up Is Blasted as ‘Licence to Kill’, The Mirror (London, England); December 21, 2005; Prince, Rosa

MURDER SUSPECT HID IN BALLYMENIA ; Extradition Hearing for Dublin Man, Sunday Life (Belfast, Northern Ireland); December 8, 2013

Murder-suicides baffle experts: One describes problem as an ‘epidemic’, The Charleston Gazette (Charleston, WV); October 26, 2006; Tom Breen

‘Murder court’ reduces backlog, The Record (Bergen County, NJ); July 17, 2002; JENNIFER V. HUGHES, STAFF WRITER

Murder most serious, The Spectator; November 10, 2007; Massie, Allan

MURDER MUST MEAN MURDER; Demand to Stop the Plea Bargains, Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland); May 8, 1998; Macaskill, Jamie

Murder charges increasing in fatal DUI cases, AP Online; September 28, 2010; GILLIAN FLACCUS

Murder rate down, but perceptions unchanged; Police plan to reduce murder rate by at least 7% each year.(News), The Star (South Africa); December 4, 2009

Murder-for-hire: an exploratory study of participant relationships.(Chapter five: multiple murder), The Varieties of Homicide and its Research; January 1, 2000; Black, James A.

Street murders on rise while arrests decline, Chicago Sun-Times; January 5, 1992; Jim Casey Phillip J. O’Connor

Murders under review by cold case detectives, Isle of Thanet Gazette; January 6, 2012; Andrew Woodman

Murder by the Book, Winnipeg Free Press; June 21, 2012

Murder in State Statute Topics

Introduction to Murder (State statute topic)

The purpose of Murder is to provide a broad appreciation of the Murder legal topic. Select from the list of U.S. legal topics for information (other than Murder).


Further Reading

Murder in the Criminal Justice System

This section covers the topics below related with Murder :



See Also

  • Homicide

Murder: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

The U.S. federal government system consists of executive, legislative, and judicial branches, each of which creates information that can be the subject of legal research about Murder. This part provides references, in relation to Murder, to the legislative process, the federal judiciary, and the primary sources of federal law (cases, statutes, and regulations).

Federal primary materials about Murder by content types:

Laws and Regulations

US Constitution
Federal Statutory Codes and Legislation

Federal Case Law and Court Materials

U.S. Courts of Appeals
United States courts of appeals, inclouding bankruptcy courts and bankcruptcy appellate panels:

Federal Administrative Materials and Resources

Presidential Materials

Materials that emanate from the President’s lawmaking function include executive orders for officers in departments and agencies and proclamations for announcing ceremonial or commemorative policies. Presidential materials available include:

Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Murder and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Murder or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Murder and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Murder. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Murder should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Murder when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

Tools and Forms

Law in Other Regions

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