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Criminal Law Spring 2017

III.C.ii. Unintentional Murder

Just as certain factors can bump murder down to manslaughter, others can bump it right back up. The cases in this section examine circumstances considered so extreme that, even though they do not show specific intent to kill or knowledge of killing, they are punished as “unintentional murder.” The doctrines that raise these homicides from manslaughter to murder have provocative traditional names: depraved heart; abandoned heart; malignant heart; or, more recently, “extreme indifference to the value of human life.” Consider why we punish these unintentional killings more severely than others, and how we distinguish these kinds of homicides from “normal” recklessness or indifference. Is it simply an instinctual feeling that these crimes are more blameworthy? As you read these cases, consider how the main justifications for criminal punishment—retribution, deterrence, incapacitation, and rehabilitation—justify elevating the level of criminal punishment.

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