Describe Malice Aforethought and how we show/prove it. If they (the criminal) doesn't tell you their man endangering state of mind how can you prove it?
Malice aforethought in common law and fourteenth century law in England had been associated with murder as an act of killing with “malice prepense”. Under common law, there had been no “degrees” murder. The term “malice aforethought” literally meant to indicate an intentional, preplanned, deliberate murder motivated by ill will (malice) toward the victim. Several centuries later, judges started defining “malice aforethought” to cover killings of any kind not only preplanned killing (express malice), but also murder resulting from reckless or wanton conduct (implied, universal, or constructive malice). Thus, courts expanded law to book all murderers. By 19th century the term “malice aforethought” had come to be known in England as any murder with an (a) intention to cause death of, or grievous bodily harm to, any person. (b) with the knowledge that such an act would cause death or grievous bodily harm to some person along with the thinking or wish that it may not cause death .
Now the term “malice afterthought” became a broader term since the middle of nineteenth century and was it no longer required to be qualified by malice or aforethought. Part (a) of the definition above is apt since such persons can be labeled as serious offenders. Part (b) of the definition above is less clear since not everyone intending to harm severely by stabbing actually is intending death. In the past, serious bodily injuries resulted in death due to less advanced medical treatment available then and that had led to the assumption that intent to kill could be inferred from any intent to cause serious harm. This inference is no longer valid today. Common law developed second kind of murders committed with “malice aforethought” also known as implied malice. Actors without an intention to kill however acted in such a way that they did so with the knowledge that the act had a very risk of death. They were branded as with a “depraved and malignant mind” or “abandoned heart” whether or not death resulted. To cite an example, a defendant without a reason fired a rifle into a train killing a trainman by mere accident. In this approach, a person who knowingly acts with a greater of risk of death generally and in fact causes death of a person is considered to have conducted himself with malice “aforethought “in relation to the victim. Thus, those who deliberately wanted to kill and those engaged in very dangerous act that they know it would cause death, both could be convicted of murder with “malice aforethought”. The definition of “malice aforethought” continues to confuse courts even today. Recently in 2007, a California Court after more than six centuries of its first use, tried to define the term. In People v Knowller, 41 Cal 4th 139, the trial court observed that the term in its usage in California meant that it” involved a high probability of death of another”. The California appellate court did not agree and decided that the term’s meaning was “defendant’s conscious disregard of risk serious bodily injury to another”. However, the Supreme Court of California held that both the courts below were not correct and declared that term’s meaning was “an act, which is dangerous to life of another and who acts with conscious disregard for life”. This was a unanimous decision by seven judges of Supreme Court.
Mental state of mind of a defendant is very difficult to be proved even if he is compelled to testify. As the defendants cannot be compelled to testify, common law developed presumptions of malice of which two are most important. The first one was that the defendant is “presumed” to intend” “natural and probable cause of his act”. The second one was death caused with a deadly weapon is presumed to be done with malice. Though a few courts consider these principles even today, they are not at all presumptions but permissive inferences left to the jury’s discretion.
As a result of English courts’ broader treatment of the term “malice aforethought”, many state legislatures of America after the American revolution started dividing murder under two categories. The law prescribed death penalty only for first degree murder that was “premeditated, willful and deliberate”. Thus, the state laws recaptured the original meaning of “malice aforethought” to encompass death caused by individuals who really wanted kill their victim (premeditated), brooded over it for some considerable time and then killed willfully. Later on the time element as of some length was reduced to even a split-second as held in State v Arata 56, Wash 185, 107 (1909).
Thus, in order to prove a person guilty of ‘malice aforethought” without being compelled to testify, it is enough if it is proved that the person who had been intending to kill his victim eventually killed him without any considerable time element being necessary for contemplating over the killing intent.
Singer, Richard G and John Q La Fond. Criminal Law. Aspen Publishers, 2010. Print