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Effect of Motive on Public Perceptions of the Seriousness of Murder in Israel

NCJ Number
British Journal of Criminology Volume: 44 Issue: 5 Dated: September 2004 Pages: 771-782
Sergio Herzog
Geoffrey Pearson
Date Published
September 2004
12 pages
This study examined whether the lack of formal recognition of motive in evaluating and categorizing murders in Israel corresponds to the criteria applied by the public in assessing the seriousness of varying types of murder.
Research over time has consistently shown that the public considers murder to be the most serious of criminal offenses and that it evaluates the seriousness of murder on the basis of criminal intent or motive. This study attempted to enhance the understanding of the extent to which motive affects the way in which the public perceives and evaluates the seriousness of different kinds of murder. Two hypotheses were presented: (1) criminal intent will constitute an important factor in public evaluations of the seriousness of murder cases; and (2) among various homicide motives, prolonged domestic abuse and mercy considerations (euthanasia) will significantly affect the seriousness perceptions of murder cases. Respondents were asked to evaluate hypothetical scenarios. The scenarios were created by randomly selecting values from each of several variables. Israel was seen as a highly suited location for the study with murder considered the most serious criminal offense, as well as the Israeli criminal code distinguishing between three categories of criminal homicide (murder, voluntary manslaughter, and negligent homicide). Findings concurred with previous research showing that murder is consistently and uniformly considered by the public to be an extremely serious criminal offense and that criminal intent significantly affected public perceptions. In addition, some homicide motives, such as prolonged domestic abuse and mercy killing considerations had a significant effect. An investigation of the extent to which the public’s views are reflected accurately in formal categories of criminal statutes in other national contexts was recommended. References and appendix