Murder and manslaughter differ only in the mind of the killer. If it is deemed a murder, the accused may never see freedom again; if manslaughter, the accused may never see the inside of prison. In both cases the victim is dead, but the punishment relies on a discernment of intent, the mental state.
Laws and statutes slice this distinction further. “Reckless” falls between “knowingly” and “accidental.” And then there’s “with extreme indifference to the value of human life” which can be ordered as a side dish when choosing from the menu of charges available.
How does society determine intent? It’s not easy. If there are no witnesses and the victim is dead or uncooperative, there’s only the word of the accused — not necessarily an impartial authority. So that little challenge is left to juries to decide.
I’ve found I’m having the greatest difficulty in cases that involve more than one person. Disputes, especially domestic ones, are much harder than property crimes. I’ve also found that our youngest members on the jury tend to struggle the least. Each case is simple to them. Somebody did a bad thing; that makes them a bad person; throw away the key. “Bad people have bad thoughts that lead them to do bad things.”
Those of us who have raised children and have been married long enough to be bored with it, we see things differently. I can remember times when I was as mad as some of these people we’re indicting, I have felt as desperate as some of them, I have looked back and wondered how a dispute might have turned out differently. I can’t say who sees these matters more accurately, but the young certainly see it all more clearly.
Yesterday, the DA decided we needed to look at a gun that was used in a crime to determine how easily it could have been fired “by mistake.” From that experience erupted an orgy of bravado from half the room and a sullen chagrin from the other half. “There but by the grace of God go I”: that’s what I was thinking. I’ve never been around guns or drugs or other things that can kill you “when used as directed,” but I’m glad for the lack of those opportunities.
I can believe that there are a few people who are quite evil, and others who are very very good. But I’m certain that I’m a messy mixture of both and I assume most everyone I encounter is too.