Greg Smith and Associates, Criminal Defense Attorneys

Salt Lake City (Murray)
Free 20 Min. Consultation  :  Nights & Weekends  :  Easy Payments

801-651-1512  -  24/7

Free 20 Min. Consultation 24/7

801-651-1512


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What Juror Confusion Over Terms Can Mean in a Murder Case

When a jury considers guilt in a criminal case, it also is asked to consider the intent of the person who committed the crime. Did the person intend to do wrong or cause harm or was the result accidental? The question of intent is significant when it comes to sentencing, especially in criminal cases involving violent crimes like murder.

The courts punish purposeful crimes more severely than negligent crimes. The difference between first-degree murder (purposeful homicide) and manslaughter (reckless or negligent homicide) can be many years added to a prison sentence.

The Model Penal Code, which is used in most states, defines four "mental states" in terms of intent. Jurors are asked to determine if the person acted in a manner that was purposeful, knowing, reckless or negligent. These are defined as:

(A person might also be found to be blameless if there was no intent and no significant risk. This might be the finding in a case involving a truly accidental death.)

Does the average juror understand what each of those terms means? That is the question a group of law professors and psychology professors considered in a recent study entitled "Sorting Guilty Minds." Results from the research are both good and bad.

Even without being told the definition of each term, most jurors were able to distinguish between purposeful, negligent and blameless. But they could not reliably distinguish between knowing and reckless misconduct. The distinctions they made were arbitrary. And even when instructed on the differences between the two terms, the research subjects did no better. In fact, they often gave harsher punishment for reckless conduct than for knowing conduct.

The authors of the study say the inability to distinguish between knowing and reckless conduct suggests that reform is needed, perhaps in the form of improved jury instruction, a redefinition of the categories, or abandoning one of the categories entirely, especially in homicide cases.

Source: "Sorting Guilty Minds," November 14, 2011.

Tags: criminal charge, criminal defense, murder

Clients with disabilities or impairments
Access to our office is available to clients and their family members at all times. Special equipment and communication devices are available upon request for our clients with visual, hearing, speech and physical impairment. In addition, arrangements can be made for verbal or sign language interpreters if needed to communicate between our attorneys and the client and family. Please notify our law office if any additional accommodations related to your disability or impairment are necessary to make your consultation more comfortable.

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Feedback From Satisfied Clients

"The domestic violence and DUI crimes that I was charged with would have ruined my career. Thank you for saving me! You are worth every penny I paid you."

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Avvo Clients' Choice Award. 5 Stars
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Greg Smith and Associates, Criminal Law Attorneys, located in Salt Lake City (SLC), also represents clients from communities such as Provo, Orem, Payson, Ogden, Park City, Sandy, Draper, West Valley City, Bountiful, Murray, West Jordan, Taylorsville, Farmington, Alta, Bluffdale, Cottonwood Heights, Draper, Herriman, Holladay, Midvale, Murray, Riverton, Sandy, South Jordan, South Salt Lake, Taylorsville, West Jordan, West Valley City and Richfield; and counties including Salt Lake County, Summit County, Tooele County, Sevier County and Davis County, Utah.

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