Murder – the killing of a human being with malice aforethought

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(bef. 12c)

1. The killing of a human being with malice aforethought.  *  At common law, the crime of murder was not subdivided, but many state statutes have adopted the degree structure outlined below, though the Model Penal Code has not. Model Penal Code § 210.2.
vb. — murderous, adj. [1]

A technical term or word of art which can be defined with particularity only by resort to the specific. statute in the jurisdiction involved. Re Kirby, 162 Cal 91, 121 P 370

At common law, the killing of one human being by another with malice aforethought, either express or implied, that is, with deliberate intent or formed design to kill. 26 Am J1st Homi § 11; Wiley v State, 19 Ariz 346, 170 P 869; Commonwealth v Buzard, 365 Pa 511, 76 AM 394, 22 ALR2d 846

The intentional killing of a human being without legal justification or excuse and under circumstances insufficient to reduce the crime to manslaughter. 26 Am J1st Homi § 11. [2]

1. The intentional and premeditated killing of a human being (first degree murder); the intentional killing of  a human being, without premeditation, but with malice aforethought, express or implied (second degree murder).  Under most state statutes, a homicide that occurs during the commission of a felony is first degree murder, as are homicides perpetrated by ling in wait, torture, poison, and other criminal acts from which premeditation or deliberation can be inferred.  Similarly,  a homicide that results from deliberately doing a dangerous or deadly act with disregard for the safety of others is second degree murder, malice being inferred from the act itself. [3]

     Excerpt from Theodore F.T. Plucknett’s A Concise History of the Common Law (5th ed. 1956):

     “The word ‘murder’ has . . . had a devious history.  Its original sense is the particularly heinous crime of secret slaying.  After the conquest it was observed that Normans were frequently found dead under mysterious circumstances, and so William I enacted that if anyone were found slain and the slayer were not caught, then the hundred should pay a fine; this fine is a murdrum.  The practice soon grew up to taking inquests and if it were presented that the dead man was English, then the fine was not due.  In 1267 it was enacted that accidental deaths should not give rise to murdrum, and finally in 1340 presentment of Englishry and murdrum were abolished. Henceforth the word slowly tends to get linked up with ‘malice aforethought’ and so we get the classical formulae describing the crime of murder. [4]

Varying Types and Degrees of Murder:

open murder – 1. An unsolved homicide.  2. A charge presenting the elements of both first and second-degree murder.  *  The jury must decide whether to convict of either first- or second-degree murder (but not both) based on the evidence.

first degree murder – willful, deliberate, or premeditated murder, or murder committed during the course of another dangerous felony. — aka murder of the first degree; murder one.

  • felony murder – occurs during the commission of a dangerous felony (often limited to rape, kidnapping, robbery, burglary, and arson). — aka unintentional murder; (in English law) constructive murder.
    • felony-murder rule – a death which occurs by accident or chance during the course of the commission of a felony is first degree murder.
  • murder by torture – murder preceded by intentional infliction of pain and suffering on the victim.
  • mass murder (1917) A murderous act or series of acts by which a criminal kills many victims at or near the same time, usually as part of one act or plan.  Cf. serial murder; MASSACRE.
  • serial murder (1977) A murder in which a criminal kills one of many victims over time, often as part of a pattern in which the criminal targets victims who have some similar characteristics.  Cf. mass murder.
  • willful murder (16C) The unlawful and intentional killing of another without excuse or mitigating circumstances.

 second degree murder – committed with intent to kill, but not premeditated or deliberate. — aka murder of the second degree; murder two. [1]

  • depraved-heart murder – a murder resulting from an act so reckless and careless of the safety of others, it demonstrates the perpetrator’s complete lack of regard for human life. — aka depraved indifference murder; unintentional murder; extreme indifference murder; depraved-mind murder.

third degree murder – a wrong that does not constitute first or second degree murder; few states have third degree murder within their legal codes. — aka murder of the third degree; murder three.


murder clause – A contract provision that imposes onerous —often unreasonable — obligations on one party.  *  Murder clauses are usually found in construction contracts.

murderous malice See MALICE.

murdrum [Law Latin] (13c) Hist. 1. The secret killing of someone.  2. A line against the tithing where the secret and unsolved homicide took place. [1]

1. The ancient Teutonic name which was applied to an amercement which the vill in which a moerda or secret killing was committed, was liable to pay; or, if the vill was too poor, the whole hundred was amerced. See 4 Bl Comm 194. [2]

     Excerpt from Max Radin, Handbook of Anglo-American Legal History 175-76 (1936):

     “The readiness with which the Norman administrators seized on this Anglo-Saxon system was probably due to its effectiveness in collecting the murdrum, the murder fine.  In ordinary cases of homicide, the whole district — except the kin of the suspect — would be zealous to bring the malefactor to justice.  But we can readily see that, if the person killed was a Norman, every effort would be made to shield the murderer.  The Norman rulers had recourse to the device . . . of imposing a group responsibility.  The tithing within which the murdered Norman was found was compelled to pay a fine or to discover and surrender the homicide.  The word murdrum is a word of uncertain etymology, and has given us our term for willful homicide.” [5]

3. Murder, specifically, murder with malice aforethought.

murdrare – To murder.

murdre – Murder.

murdritor – A murderer. [2]


Disclaimer: All material throughout this website is compiled in accordance with Fair Use.

[1]: Black’s Law Dictionary Deluxe Tenth Edition by Henry Campbell Black & Editor in Chief Bryan A. Garner. ISBN: 978-0-314-62130-6

[2]: Ballantine’s Law Dictionary with Pronunciations
Third Edition
 by James A. Ballantine (James Arthur 1871-1949).  Edited by William S. Anderson.  © 1969 by THE LAWYER’S CO-OPERATIVE PUBLISHING COMPANY.  Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 68-30931

[3]:  Ballantine’s Law Dictionary Legal Assistant Edition
by Jack Ballantine 
(James Arthur 1871-1949).  Doctored by Jack G. Handler, J.D. © 1994 Delmar by Thomson Learning.  ISBN 0-8273-4874-6.

[4]: Theodore F.T. Plucknett, A Concise History of the Common Law 445 (5th ed. 1956).

[5]: Max Radin, Handbook of Anglo-American Legal History 175-76 (1936).


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