There are many ways to murder someone.
Over time, Anglo-American criminal systems have come to distinguish between degrees of murder. With such a weighty crime and potentially serious punishments, the instinct to subdivide the offense according to degrees of blameworthiness seems like a reasonable way to accommodate the “proportionality principle”—the idea that crimes of different levels of blameworthiness should be treated differently. The best-known distinction between types of murder is between first- and second-degree murder.
The line between first- and second-degree murder is supposedly clear: premeditation. As the cases in this section suggest, however, defining premeditation can be difficult, and courts have taken different approaches. As you read these cases, consider also how the distinction between first- and second-degree murder serves the goals of criminal punishment. Which is more blameworthy, and thus more deserving of punishment as a matter of retribution? Who is more dangerous, and should be incapacitated longer, or permanently? Who can be deterred—and who can’t?
This book, and all H2O books, are Creative Commons licensed for sharing and re-use. Material included from the American Legal Institute is reproduced with permission and is exempted from the open license.