Does Georgia differentiate between murder charges?
Some of the most popular television shows for the last couple decades have been so-called ‘police procedurals,’ where the main characters are law enforcement officers and the viewers are taken through the steps of identifying an alleged criminal and the solving of the crime. Also widely viewed are courtroom dramas, these shows purport to show the inner workings of the justice system. An especially successful example of this has been the “Law and Order” series of shows, which combine these two elements.
If you have seen one of the various iterations of these shows, you have undoubtedly been treated to terms such as ‘first degree murder,’ or ‘premeditation’ among others. While these terms do exist in legal circles, especially in certain states, not every jurisdiction uses the same language and definitions.
For example, Georgia law does not differentiate between degrees of murder in the classical sense. According to Georgia Statute 16-5-1, there are only two ways to commit murder: either the unlawful killing of another with “malice aforethought,” or killing someone unlawfully while engaged in the commission of another felony, regardless of the presence of any malice (aka ‘felony murder.’)
Now, there are other charges that can be brought against someone who is involved in another’s death. These include, generally, voluntary and involuntary manslaughter, which are crimes that have elements that differ from a murder charge. Being charged with murder is serious and can lead to life-altering penalties. The prescribed sentences for murder are death, life imprisonment without parole, and life imprisonment. Therefore, if you face a murder charge in Georgia, you may want to seriously consider speaking with an experienced criminal attorney.
What is malice aforethought?
Georgia law differentiates murder from manslaughter. The main difference between these crimes is the concept of malice aforethought.
Georgia Code Section 16-15-1 defines murder as the unlawful killing of another with malice aforethought. In other words, to convict a defendant of murder, prosecutors must show that the defendant intended harm. The statute breaks malice down into two categories: express malice and implied malice.
Killing with malice, in general, is killing with intent, as opposed to recklessness or negligence. Express malice, according to the law, is killing someone when the intent to do so can be seen through external circumstances that can be directly proved. One example might be an audio recording of someone saying “I’m going to kill you” seconds before shooting another person. This is direct evidence of the intent to kill. Remember, of course, that such evidence may or may not be admissible in a trial, or may be rebuttable by the defendant.
Implied malice is the killing of another when there does not appear to be any provocation to do so, and when the totality of the circumstances shows an “abandoned and malignant heart.” This is a fairly subjective question, and implied malice will likely be more difficult to prove than express malice.
What is ‘voluntary manslaughter’ in Georgia?
People in Georgia have likely heard the term “homicide” in reference to criminal proceedings, whether in the news or in crime dramas on television. The term is descended from Latin and, at its most basic, simply means the killing of a human being. The term is a bit more specialized in legal circles, however, and most of the time it is used to categorize any of a number of crimes that result in the unlawful killing of another. These can include murder, and also other charges known as “manslaughter.”
“Malice aforethought” has to do with the intent of the person who does the killing. In this state, there is another category of homicide crime that is called “voluntary manslaughter.” As with murder, a person who commits voluntary manslaughter has the intent to kill, but some circumstances surrounding the crime differentiate it from a murder. Under Georgia Code 16-5-2, a person who kills someone as the result of a serious provocation and a sudden, violent and irresistible passion, commits voluntary manslaughter.
Note that this passionate violent reaction must be instantaneous. That is, if any significant time elapses such that the person could reflect, even for a minute, about what he or she is about to do, a jury may find that the killing is a revenge killing and convict a person of murder.
People convicted of voluntary manslaughter in Georgia face prison sentences of between one and 20 years. This is, of course, much less harsh than the penalties for murder charges which may result in a death sentence or life imprisonment. Thus, the legal arguments about what occurred when someone is killed may have a great impact on the future of the accused.
What is involuntary manslaughter in Georgia?
The main difference between the killing of someone being considered murder and voluntary manslaughter is generally one of planning. That is, did the killer consciously decide to kill the victim, or did he or she act in the heat of some great passion that was irresistible to a reasonable person? As we discussed, the difference can mean a lot in terms of punishment imposed.
Of course, the fact that the law specifies a crime for voluntary manslaughter implies that there is another category of manslaughter. Indeed, Georgia Code Section 16-5-3 defines the offense of involuntary manslaughter and its potential punishments. Do not be confused by the word involuntary used in this statute. In this context it does not necessarily mean someone was forced by another to commit the crime. It basically means that the defendant did not intend that the victim be killed.
Involuntary manslaughter can, as defined by statute, occur either during the commission of an illegal act, or while committing a legal act in an unlawful way. In the former case, a person may be guilty of involuntary manslaughter if he or she kills another, without intending to do so, while committing an illegal act that is not a felony. In such a case, the person, if convicted, could be sentenced to between one and 10 years in prison.
Involuntary manslaughter could also occur as the result of someone engaged in a lawful act. In this case, a person would be guilty of involuntary manslaughter if there was no intent to kill, and the legal act was done in a way that was unlawful and likely to lead to great bodily harm or death. In such cases, a conviction would be punished as a misdemeanor, such as a possible sentence to less than a year in jail.
As you can see, when you are accused of killing another human being, the type of crime you are convicted of can make a huge difference in the penalties imposed. The difference between murder charges and manslaughter in Georgia could literally be life and death for the accused.
What’s the difference between “assault” and “battery” in Georgia?
Many Georgia residents are likely familiar with the terms “assault” and “battery,” as they tend to find fairly common use in the popular culture of the United States. They are often used in combination, almost as a single phrase, as in “assault and battery,” and many people likely think that the definitions are more or less interchangeable. However, under Georgia law, the two crimes are separate and have different elements, even though they can sometimes occur together.
Basically, “assault” is, in some ways, a crime of attempt or threat. In Georgia, a person can commit assault by placing another person in fear of imminent bodily harm. This could be done by actual actions showing an intent to injure someone, or even by threatening words in certain circumstances. The phrase “I’m going to kill you,” if said in a manner to place a person in fear of that outcome, could be considered an assault.
“Battery,” on the other hand, involves an actual harmful or offensive touching to another individual. To be a battery, the person accused would need to make physical contact with the other person with an intent to either cause physical harm, or a touching meant to insult or provoke that person. A hard finger-poke to the chest, even if it doesn’t do permanent physical harm to the victim, could be considered a battery, for example. Intentionally spitting in another person’s face might also be considered a form of this crime.
Because of the way the definitions interrelate, battery is often accompanied by assault, as the actual touching of a victim is often preceded by an attempt or placing of fear of imminent harm into that person. Assaults, on the other hand, can occur even if no physical contact is made. It is important for you to note that both of these crimes are considered to be violent, and can result in serious penalties. If you have been accused of assault or battery, you may want to get more information about how you can present a defense to the charges.
What is ‘aggravated assault’ in Georgia?
In legal terms, aggravation generally means that there are circumstances involved in a crime that tend to make the offense more serious. This is true regarding assault and aggravated assault in Georgia. Georgia Code Section 16-5-21 defines what makes an assault in the state aggravated rather than just a simple assault. Basically, the major difference between the crimes is the intent of the accused, or the size of the threat that the person poses. Aggravated assault, under the statute, includes assaulting another person with the intent to rape, rob or murder the victim, or when the person uses a weapon or object in the assault that is likely to cause great bodily harm to the person assaulted. An assault is also aggravated if it includes an object that could result in strangulation, or involves firing a gun from a vehicle.
Aggravated assault is a serious crime and carries concomitantly serious penalties. A person convicted of aggravated assault in Georgia can be sentenced to between one and 20 years in prison. Further, there are special sentencing rules for certain types of victims. Committing aggravated assault on a police officer or corrections officer or a person over 65 years of age will carry a minimum sentence longer than a typical aggravated assault.
Of course, as with all criminal accusations, a person charged with simple or aggravated assault is considered innocent until proven guilty. This means that Georgia residents facing such charges should ensure that the prosecution has to make its case, and that they avail themselves of all legal defenses available.
As with all crimes, the law provides for various defenses to assault charges. An experienced assault lawyer may be able to help formulate legal defenses to a pending assault charge. Some of the more common defenses to assault charges include the following:
- Mistaken Identity
- Self-defense (i.e. using force or a threat of force toward someone else for self-protection or self-preservation purposes)
- Defense of another
- Falsification of story by alleged victim (usually when custody of a minor child or children is involved)
Assault convictions come with harsh penalties, and you need experienced legal representation throughout your case. A criminal defense lawyer will assist you with obtaining the best possible result in your case, whether that be formulating a successful legal defense(s) to your charges, obtaining a complete dismissal of your charges, obtaining a favorable plea deal with the prosecution, and/or a obtaining a reduced penalty post-conviction.
The Difference Between Simple and Aggravated Battery
Like assault charges, battery crimes are divided into the categories of simple and aggravated.
A person commits the crime of simple battery when he or she:
- Intentionally makes physical contact of an insulting or provoking nature with the person of another; or
- Intentionally causes physical harm to another.
Simple battery is a misdemeanor and is punishable by up to one year in jail, a fine of up to $1,000, probation, and restitution. However, simple battery can be elevated to a misdemeanor of high and aggravated nature if the victim was pregnant, over 65, a police officer, a caregiver, a school employee, or if the crime was domestic in nature.
Like aggravated assault, aggravated battery is also very similar to its less-serious version, simple battery, except that it involves maliciously inflicting a serious injury to the victim, such as loss of a limb, loss of use of a limb, or serious disfigurement. Aggravated battery is a felony and is punishable by one to twenty years in prison, fines, and restitution. As with all violent crimes, the penalties for a battery conviction are too severe to risk and require the assistance of qualified legal counsel.
Call our firm today at 770-887-1209 or use our contact form to schedule a free consultation with one of Banks, Stubbs, and McFarland’s top violent crime defense attorneys.