Monday, November 26, 2007

The Joy of Lex

Todays fun tidbit is on murder - incidentally, as any one who watches Law and Order knows, we distinguish different degrees based on the mental state ("Mens Rea") of the defendant. (In common law) if the murder is premeditated and deliberate and willful, then it is murder in the first degree and can get the death penalty in some of the more regressive states, if it is done with malice aforethought but not premeditated, deliberate, and willful, then it is second degree murder (and manslaughter requires even less, of course).

Now, as I have learned, originally the degree of murder didn't stem from the mental state of the murderer. Singer and La Fond tell us:

The word "murder" actually stems from a fine (the "murdrum") imposed by the first Norman kings of England upon a town if the town refused to disclose the murder of a Norman. If the victim was proven to be Saxon, however, no fine was imposed. Thus, "the worst kind of killing" was initially designated by the victim rather than by [the mental state of the murderer]. Criminal Law 3E, p. 155 n. 7

Who knew - sometimes it's better to off a WAS[P]. (Because the "P" isn't applicable for another 500 years or so).

1 comment:

Russian Federation said...

ah very interesting.

i read a while back that in england lawyers used to be restricted from addressing the jury directly...from this restriction grew today's rhetorical style of cross examination.

also, anybody that's seen legally blonde knows mens rea - no vocabulary lesson, elle ;)

finally, i had a taiwanese reader today, i suspect this person was linked from your blog to mine ^_^