Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Parsing Homicide

Right now, the top charge that Cuadra and Kerekes face is defined under Title 18, Section 2501, Sub-section A of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes. It’s better known as Criminal Homicide.

But the Commonwealth offers several flavors of Criminal Homicide to satisfy the tastes of prosecutors, defense lawyers, judges and jurors.

Question is, which of the tangy assortment will apply in this case?

Involuntary manslaughter is “when as a direct result of the doing of an unlawful act in a reckless or grossly negligent manner, or the doing of a lawful act in a reckless or grossly negligent manner, [the defendant] causes the death of another person.”

Voluntary manslaughter is when “[a] person... kills an[other] individual...[but] at the time of the killing... is acting under a sudden and intense passion resulting from serious provocation by: the individual killed; or another whom the actor endeavors to kill, but [through negligence or accident] causes the death of the individual killed.”

Being mistaken about whether one is legally justified in killing another person is also voluntary homicide. Say, a misunderstanding of what self-defense really is.

Third-degree murder is mostly defined as what it isn’t: it’s “all other kinds murder” that aren’t first- or second-degree.

Second-degree murder is complex and relies not just on its overall definition but in specific definitions of the terms within that overall definition. From the statute: “A criminal homicide constitutes murder of the second degree when it is committed while defendant was engaged as a principal or an accomplice in the perpetration of a felony.”

“Perpetration of a felony" is thereafter defined as “[t]he act of the defendant in engaging in or being an accomplice in the commission of, or an attempt to commit, or flight after committing, or attempting to commit robbery, rape, or deviate sexual intercourse by force or threat of force, arson, burglary or kidnapping.”

Those ancillary felonies are defined, of course in their own specific statutes.

Given that specific description of second-degree murder, we can perhaps see why Mr. Cuadra and Mr. Kerekes are also charged with all those lesser offenses: they are stepping stones to second-degree murder.

First-degree murder depends on the meaning of its terms, as well. To wit: “A criminal homicide constitutes murder of the first degree when it is committed by an intentional killing.”

“Intentional killing” is “[k]illing by means of poison, or by lying in wait, or by any other kind of willful, deliberate and premeditated killing.”

Decide for yourself which of the above classifications the evidence supports, or is intended to support.