malice aforethought – intent to kill or injure, or deliberate commission of a dangerous or deadly act in disregard of peoples’ lives or safety

     This page is continued from Criminal Law Self-Help >>>> Legal Terms pertaining to Assessing Varying Degrees of Crimes >>>> Malice:


malice aforethought:

1. The requisite mental state for common-law murder, encompassing any one of the following:

(1) the intent to kill,
(2) the intent to inflict grievous bodily harm,
(3) extremely reckless indifference to the value of human life (the so-called “abandoned and malignant heart”), or
(4) the intent to commit a dangerous felony (which leads to culpability under the felony-murder rule). 

— aka premeditated malice; preconceived malice; malice prepense; malitia praecogitata. [1]

1. An intent to kill or injure, or the deliberate commission of a dangerous or deadly act in disregard of the lives or safety of others.  The word “aforethought” does not refer to the intent to take life, but to the malice. [2]

with malice aforethought:

1. A technical word in an indictment, indicating premeditated design. 27 Am J1st indict § 67.

Essentially, as an element of murder, the same as malice, a wicked and corrupt disregard of the life and safety of another. 26 Am J1st Homi § 40.
     In the term “malice aforethought,” the word aforethought describes, not the intent to take life, but the malice. State v Fiske, 63 Conn 388, 391, 28 A 572. — aka malice prepense. [3]

     Excerpt from J.W. Cecil Turner’s Kenny’s Outlines of Criminal Law (16th ed. 1952):

     “Malice aforethought is the term which came into use during medieval times to indicate the mental element necessary in the felony of murder. It has been the subject of voluminous jurisprudential enquiry . . . . [4]

     Excerpt from Rollin M. Perkins Er Ronald N. Boyce’s Criminal Law (3d ed. 1982):

     “Every intentional killing is with malice aforethought unless under circumstances sufficient to constitute

(1) justification,
(2) excuse, or
(3) mitigation.


1. Previously planned; a thought had before; premeditation. [2]



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[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 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.

[3]: 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

[4]: J.W. Cecil Turner, Kenny’s Outlines of Criminal Law 27 (16th ed. 1952).

[5]: Rollin M. Perkins Er Ronald N. Boyce, Criminal Law 58 (3d ed. 1982).


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