Sir William Blackstone, an 18th century English judge, is known for writing Commentaries on the Laws of England. This work was the original foundation for legal education in America and dominated the common law legal system for centuries. Blackstone broke the definition of murder down into five elements:
of a human
by another human
with malice aforethought.
The law was designed to define the various degrees and circumstances of murder in order to provide and achieve justice for all. Even though Blackstone did his best to dissect and define murder, in today’s society, the definition is not so clear-cut. Murder is committed and discussed daily across the United States; however, the unique situations and circumstances of each murder can ignite chaos within courtrooms. In order to ensure that justice is achieved, it is not only important to examine the circumstances under which the murder was committed, but it is key to study the state of mind of the accused.
In the United States we typically classify murder in terms of degrees. The phrase “degrees of murder” refers to the intent or severity of a particular murder charge. The most common degrees of murder are first-degree and second- degree.
The degree in which a murder is classified is highly dependent on the state in which the case is set. Specific criteria for each degree of murder are established by statute in each state and by the United States Code in federal prosecutions. In both first-degree and second-degree murder, the result is the death of another person. The main differentiating factor in the two is determining the mental state of the perpetrator at the time of the killing.
Although it varies from state to state, first- degree murder is generally a killing which is deliberate and premeditated. First-degree murder involves premeditated killing, such as lying in wait for someone with a gun. State laws include a list of felonies that qualify a homicide as first degree murder. Some of these felonies include: burglary, home-invasion robbery, kidnapping, and sexual battery.
A recent example of a first degree murder case is that of Jodi Arias, who was charged in the murder of Travis Alexander. The prosecution argued that Alexander’s murder was premeditated based on the fact that before arriving at Alexander’s house, Arias rented a car, dyed her hair, turned off her cell phone—apparently to make her harder to identify, her movements harder to track. Prosecutors believed her mission was murder. Alexander ended their relationship and started dating other women. Prosecutors argued that Arias became jealous and this jealousy led to Alexander’s murder. Arias admitted to killing Alexander. She shot him in the face, stabbed him more than 20 times, and slit his throat, claiming it was in self-defense. The jury, however, found her guilty of first-degree murder. (http://usnews.nbcnews.com)
Second degree murder is defined as a non-premeditated or unplanned killing, resulting from an assault in which the death of the victim was a distinct possibility. Second-degree murder usually involves killing on the spur of the moment, or where the offender intends to inflict serious harm but also realizes it may cause death. Second degree murder may be caused by dangerous or reckless conduct and the offender’s obvious lack of concern for human life.
A recent example of a second-degree murder conviction is that of George Huguely V. Huguely was found guilty of second-degree murder and grand larceny involving the death of his on-again off-again girlfriend, Yeardley Love. Both Huguely and Love were college seniors who played on the nationally-ranked lacrosse teams at the University of Virginia. In 2010 Love was found dead face down on her bloody pillow by a roommate. Police answered a call of an alcohol overdose but after officers saw a hole punched in her bedroom door they treated Love’s bedroom as a crime scene. Huguely told interrogators that he went to Love’s apartment that night to talk to her. He said she freaked out and they wrestled on the floor. He said he tossed her in bed and left her apartment with her computer. The medical examiner ruled she died of blunt force trauma. Huguely’s defense attorney depicted his client as a stupid, drunk “boy athlete” who was incapable of murder, though he conceded that Huguely “contributed” to Love’s death. (USA Today.com)
In addition to first and second-degree murder, we often need to examine other crimes in which a life is taken, but the circumstances do not constitute murder. These are cases of voluntary and involuntary manslaughter.
A murder charge may be reduced to manslaughter, usually based on four conditions that must be fulfilled to warrant the reduction: (1) the provocation must cause rage or fear in a reasonable person; (2) the defendant must have actually been provoked; (3) there should not be a time period between the provocation and the killing within which a reasonable person would cool off; and (4) the defendant should not have cooled off during that period.
Manslaughter is defined as the unjustifiable, inexcusable, and intentional killing of a human being without deliberation, premeditation, and malice.The essential distinction between murder and manslaughter is that malice aforethought must be present for murder, whereas it must be absent for manslaughter. Taking it one step further, there are two types of manslaughter- voluntary and involuntary.
Voluntarymanslaughter is intentional killing that is accompanied by additional circumstances that mitigate, but do not excuse, the killing. It is a separate concept from involuntary manslaughter and has several definitions depending on what state the crime occurs in. Federal law defines voluntary manslaughter as the unlawful killing of a human being without malice upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion. Generally the term “heat of passion” refers to an irresistible emotion that an ordinarily reasonable person would explore under the same facts and circumstances.
Involuntary manslaughter is defined as unintentional killing, without intent, that is the result of recklessness or criminal negligence, or from an unlawful act that is a misdemeanor or low-level felony such as a DUI. The difference between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter is the absence of the intent element. To establish involuntary manslaughter, the prosecutor must show that the defendant acted with “culpable negligence.” Typically, involuntary manslaughter does not result from a “heat of passion” but from an improper use, reasonable care, or skill while in the commission of a lawful act or while in the commission of an unlawful act not amounting to a felony.
Negligent Manslaughter: One form of involuntary manslaughter is criminally negligent manslaughter, often referred to as criminally negligent homicide. It occurs when death results from serious negligence, or serious recklessness. Negligent manslaughter or homicide is a lesser offense than first and second degree murder, in that the sentence will be comparable to manslaughter. U.S. states all define negligent manslaughter by statute. In some states, the offense includes the killing of another while driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
This summer Walt Disney is set to release The Lone Ranger starring Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer. The story, of course, is nothing new. The Lone Ranger today is an icon of the 20th century. His story represents a romanticized version of the “Wild West” with all its rough and tumble glory. The Lone Ranger is a hero, saving the lives of innocent settlers and catching outlaws with the aid of his faithful friend, Tonto. Yet the image of the Masked Avenger that movies and TV have painted in our mind may not be entirely accurate. In the past, men like Clayton Moore, Chad Michael Murray, and now, Armie Hammer, have played the leading role of the Lone Ranger. A closer look at the historicity of the Lone Ranger’s story however, suggests the possible inspiration for the legendary figure to be Bass Reeves, an often forgotten former slave and U.S. Marshall in the Indian Territory in the years preceeding the Civil War.
Bass Reeves was born in 1838 in Crawford County, Arkansas, a child of slaves. He grew up in Grayson, Texas after his owner, William S. Reeves relocated. During the Civil War, Bass claimed to have fought under the leadership of William Reeves’ son, Col. George Reeves in the Battles of Pea Ridge (1862), Chickamauga (1863), and Missionary Ridge (1863). Bass Reeves’ family however, claims an alternative story which suggests that between 1861 and 1862, Reeves attacked his owner in an argument over a card game and escaped into Indian Territory. Though the truth has yet to be determined, historians consider it unlikely that Reeves ever served in the last two battles. Regardless, after the war, it is understood that Reeves served as a guide for U.S. government officials as they passed through Indian Territory.
In 1875, Reeves began his career as a deputy U.S. Marshal under the guidance of Federal Judge Isaac Parker of the Western District of Arkansas. Roaming a 75,000 mile area in what is now mostly Oklahoma, Reeves was responsible for chasing and apprehending criminals. To do his job, Reeves employed a number of clever tricks and techniques all too reminiscent of the well known Masked Avenger. As a 6’2″ man, Reeves learned from the Native Americans how to make himself appear smaller on his strong white and grey horse. At times he would surprise outlaws by adopting their clothing and mannerisms. Just as the Lone Ranger gave out silver bullets, so too did Reeves give out silver dollars as calling cards. Reeves was also often accompanied by one particular Native American, whose name is unfortunately unknown to historians at this time. According to contemporary reports, Reeves apprehended more than 3,000 outlaws and killed 14 during his time as a marshal. Many of the criminals he apprehended were sent to Detroit to serve their time. Interestingly enough, it was in Detroit that the Lone Ranger radio program first aired.
What the Lone Ranger did in movies, Bass Reeves did in real life. Known for wielding a rifle along with two pistols on either hip and being a dangerously accurate shot, Reeves no doubt had an intimidating presence. It was his unwavering dedication to his job however, that gave Reeves his serious reputation throughout the West. Despite his success, Reeves was forced to retire in 1907 when Oklahoma became a state due to the strict Jim Crow laws. Sadly, his larger than life persona has since been lost in the annals of history. While the story of the fictional Lone Ranger comes back time and time again, the true story of Bass Reeves continues on without much notice.
This past Monday, Maryland courts found former police officer Richmond Phillips guilty of the first degree murder of his mistress Wynetta Wright and their infant child Jaylin. According to the prosecution, Phillips shot and killed 20-year-old Wright in May 2011 after a heated argument regarding a child support dispute. He then proceeded to drive 11-month-old Jaylin to a nearby apartment complex, and left her to die inside her mother’s SUV as temperatures in the car rose to a sweltering 125 degrees. The search for Wright’s body began when she failed to show up for the paternity hearing, and her body was found days later in the park where the dispute had taken place.
The case against Phillips gained momentum as Kimberly Everett, another of Phillip’s mistresses at the time of the dispute, stepped forward with incriminating testimony regarding the murder weapon. Everett reported that Phillips was in possession of a “small caliber” gun matching the .22 caliber gun used in the murder. Phillip’s defense responded to these charges arguing that the evidence was too circumstantial for a conviction and that his client “didn’t do this thing”. Regardless, Phillips was charged with the murder of both his mistress and daughter, and faces life in prison without the possibility of parole plus 20 years.
Over the last year and a half, this case has attracted substantial media attention and has been met with a heated public response. Though it is not uncommon for such cases to attract public attention, Phillip’s respected position as a law enforcement officer clearly played a role in the case’s popularity. As community leaders and role models, police officers are held to a higher ethical standard than the ordinary citizen. As they swear in the police Oath of Honor, a public statement of commitment to ethical behavior, officers are expected to uphold both the constitution and public trust in the people they serve. Leaders in the force are charged with ensuring that such ethical standards are adhered to within the organization. Therefore the case raises important questions regarding police oversight and their duty to uphold these ethical standards in the private, as well as public, sphere.
Contemporary Issues in Crime:
In your opinion, does one’s position as a public servant and law enforcement officer hold them to a higher private ethical standard above those of an ordinary citizen?
Should our government play a larger role in the oversight of law enforcement activity?
“This story was so perfect for so long. It’s this myth, this perfect story, and it wasn’t true,” – Lance Armstrong on Oprah January 18th
By Laura Bonomini
Despite decades of vehement denial, the infamous cyclist and philanthropist Lance Armstrong openly admitted
to a career-long history of doping during an Oprah interview that was broadcast this past Monday. His televised confession comes in the wake of the International Cycling Union’s (UCI) decision to strip Armstrong of his record-breaking seven Tour de France titles in response to evidence uncovered in a 2012 investigation by the United States Anti-Doping Association (USADA).
The 1,000 page report put together by USADA contains testimony from nearly a dozen of Armstrong’s former teammates detailing the sophisticated and professional doping program which Armstrong allegedly spearheaded1. According to the report, Armstrong not only participated in illegal drug use himself, but actively controlled the doping culture of the entire U.S. Postal Service Pro Cycling Team. Many speculate that his televised confession is the first step towards a full confession, which may in turn reduce the period of his ban from competitive sports.
Armstrong Career & Doping Allegations
Lance Edward Armstrong, 41, began his athletic career as a triathlete at the young age of 16. In 1992 he turned to the world of professional cycling with the Motorola Cycling Team, and went on to win the World Championship and his first Tour de France title in 19932. In 1996 his career seemed to be reaching a tragic end when Armstrong was diagnosed with stage three testicular cancer. However he emerged triumphant and cancer free the following year, gaining him an idol-like status internationally. He continued on to co-found the largely successful charity Livestrong, as well as pick up several international and national titles. In 2011 Armstrong retired from competitive cycling while facing the US federal investigation on doping which would ultimately lead to the 2012 USADA report3. He was ultimately stripped from all titles won after 1998 and subsequently banned from competing in all sports following World Anti-Doping Agency codes. Even more recently, More recently his 2000 Olympic bronze was revoked.
Armstrong has faced doping allegations for most of his athletic career. In 1999 he first tested positive for corticosteroids. These results were later explained with a medical certificate for saddle sores which contained the substance. Reports from Armstrong’s masseuse at the time state that this prescription was pre-dated, and used to cover up Armstrong’s long-term drug use. Similar reports into the use of illegal performance enhancing drugs by Armstrong and the US Postal Team continued into the early 2000s, with an active investigation by the French government into the Team’s use of a product called Actovegin. Though these allegations were dropped, accusations of doping continued as several former US Postal riders stepped forward and admitted to using such drugs. In 2004, the French book L. A. Confidentiel – Les secrets de Lance Armstrong created a stir by publically accusing Armstrong of doping, relying mainly on the allegations from the same masseuse Emma O’Reilley. Controversy was re-ignited when Armstrong came out of retirement in 2008, and came to a head in the 2011 Federal investigation.
On the televised interview, Armstrong admitted to using testosterone and cortisone steroids as well as the blood-booster erythropoetein, or EPO. EPO, one of the three types of “blood doping”, involves the use of techniques and substances to increase one’s red blood cell mass which in turn allows for the body to transport more oxygen to muscles and therefore increase stamina and performance4. Because Armstrong has decided not to challenge the USADA allegations he will not face a hearing on the charges, but will face a lifetime of illegibility from all competitive athletics under the USADA’s jurisdiction.
Nevertheless, Armstrong currently faces multiple lawsuits and legal entanglements. The first lawsuit is a federal whistle-blower case, in which Armstrong and the US Postal Service cycling team are accused of defrauding the government by allowing doping on the squad when the team’s contract with the Postal Service clearly stated that any doping would constitute default of their agreement.
The case was filed under “qui tam” provision of the False Claims Act , which allows citizens not affiliated with the government to file actions on behalf of the government in situations where persons or companies may have defrauded government programs (informally called “whistleblowing”)5. The U.S. Department of Justice stands to join in on the lawsuit, making the case much more formidable. If the team is found guilty, they may be required to return all the money under the contract with the Postal Service, which amounts to over $30 million6.
Armstrong is also engaged in two other civil lawsuits. One involves the Dallas- based insurance company SCA Promotions, which insured bonuses to Armstrong after his Tour de France victories from 2000- 2004. Armstrong sued the company for over $7.5 million in 2004 after the doping allegations listed in “L.A. Confidentiel: Les Secrets de Lance Armstrong,” which caused the company to withhold payments to Armstrong. In lieu of recent circumstances the company is planning on filing a lawsuit against Armstrong for over $12 million7. Armstrong is also being sued by British newspaper The Sunday Times, which he had sued for libel in 2004 after they had published doping accusations from the same “LA Confidential” book.
Recent accounts suggest that Armstrong may be considering a confession under oath, which may reduce his ban from sports to eight or even four years. However, such a confession may cause him to perjure himself, as he had previously swore under oath in 2004 to never have used performance-enhancing drugs. Therefore the Department of Justice would have to give him protection from perjury if he were to confess and testify.
On January 18, 1990, DC mayor Marion S. Barry was arrested on narcotics charges. During his third term in office, the FBI and local police caught the former mayor on videotape using crack cocaine. Barry was visiting a former girlfriend, Rasheeda Moore at the Vista International Hotel (now The Westin Washington, D.C. City Center) when he was caught in the act.
Moore had agreed to work with the FBI to set up Barry in exchange for a reduced sentence for another drug conviction. Barry now claims that the FBI had tried to kill him by planting a substance that was not proven to be crack, although emergency services were on the scene during the operation to ensure the mayor’s safety.
Barry had faced allegations of drug use since 1981, but he had vehemently spurned these claims. In this case, the evidence against him was too strong to deny. Barry was convicted for one charge of drug possession and served six months in federal prison, but this scandal surprisingly did not end his political career. After serving his sentence, Barry campaigned for a seat on the Washington City Council using the slogan, “He may not be perfect, but he’s perfect for D.C.” Barry was even elected for a fourth term as mayor in 1994.
In 2004, Barry successfully campaigned to return to the Washington City Council representing Ward 8, and won 95% of the vote. He is currently serving as a council member after being most recently reelected in 2008.