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What is malice aforethought in a murder case?


When someone is killed by another person, it is a homicide. People often say the word homicide and assume that it means murder, but it does not. It could have been a mistake, it could have been an accident or it could have been self-defense. Those are not necessarily murder, and may simply be manslaughter, but they are all examples of homicide.

For a killing to be classified as a murder, one of the key things that the person must have is malice aforethought. What does this legal term mean?

In general, it means they have an intent to kill that person. This sometimes means that they planned ahead, such as a person who stalks another to learn their schedule and finds a good time to ambush them alone. In other cases, the “planning” may be far less sophisticated. It may have even only taken a few moments, like the seconds leading up to an attack.

But, either way, the intent is there. One person took action with the intent to take the other person’s life. That’s what makes a homicide a murder case. If a person just killed someone accidentally — as happens often in car accidents — it may still be a wrongful death, but it’s not murder. It lacks the necessary intent to rise to that level.

This is a crucial distinction during a criminal case. If you’re charged with murder, you may not contest the fact that you killed someone else. You may not have an alibi or try to prove that you did not do it. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you should face murder charges, which can lead to very harsh sentences. The sentence for manslaughter could be far less. You need to know exactly what options you have when considering your own defense. An experienced attorney can help.

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