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Murder by Premeditation

NCJ Number
American Criminal Law Review Volume: 36 Issue: 2 Dated: Spring 1999 Pages: 145-170
Matthew A. Pauley
Date Published
26 pages
This analysis of premeditated murder concludes that legislatures should abandon attempts to use a premeditation formula to distinguish first-degree murder from second-degree murder; instead they either should use other ways to make the distinction or should follow the Model Penal Code and abandon attempts to define precise degrees of murder.
The two main approaches to the meaning of premeditation are the approach in Commonwealth v. Carroll and the approach in People v. Anderson. The Carroll case emphasized that time is irrelevant to the issue of premeditation and could be interpreted as meaning either that premeditation equaled the intent to kill or that it required an element of calm reflection. The Anderson case emphasized that premeditation required a deliberate plan accomplished coolly and steadily according to a preconceived design. However, each of these approaches can be interpreted in different ways and is subject to many valid criticisms. In addition, courts have had considerable difficulty in adhering to one definition of premeditation and in applying it consistently and clearly. Moreover, premeditated murders are not necessarily the most deserving of society's most severe sanction. Therefore, legislatures should use one of two alternatives. One approach would be to define first-degree murder in terms of the means used or the status of the victim. Another approach would be to follow the Model Penal Code and give courts and juries some discretion to decide which murders are the most grievous. Each solution has potential problems, but they recognize that premeditation fails as the dividing line between degrees of murder. Footnotes


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