Types of Aggravated Murder
There are four main types of aggravated murder. If you cause the death of a child under thirteen or cause another’s death while escaping from detention (prison, jail, hospitalization, deportion, etc.), then you could be charged with aggravated murder. If you cause a death while in the middle of a robbery, arson, rape, burglary, terrorist activities, kidnapping, or any aggravated one of the preceding offenses or an attempt to commit them, aggravated murder is an option. Finally, causing a cop’s death is aggravated murder if the cop was a cop at the time or you had the intent to kill a cop.
Aggravated murder gives you a worse penalty than murder. Murder is not a capital crime, but can land you anywhere from fifteen years to life imprisonment. If you cause the death of someone younger than thirteen years old and get convicted with a sexual motivation specification (which we will cover when we talk about sentencing), you can get a worse sentence. Next is voluntary manslaughter under ORC § 2903.03—knowingly causing another’s death under the influence of passion brought about by serious provocation before there was time for the passion to cool. In English, it means you witness the victim do something so bad that it provoked you to the point of killing that victim while you’re provoked. Ohio law gets that sometimes, victims do something that causes the killer to just “snap.” Thus, manslaughter is a lesser offense than murder.
Aggravated Murder and Intent
You have to “know” that what you are doing will kill someone, but what makes you angry enough to kill has to be the kind of thing that would enrage a reasonable person. And this can’t be the average argument you get with some Pirates fan at your local bar—words alone are inadequate provocation. The most common example is witnessing your lover in bed with another person and then killing them both before you can think it through. That type of thing is so overwhelmingly infuriating that it makes sense for someone to snap and kill your cheating spouse before you have time to reflect. Also, you’ve got to act before you have time to think it through because what distinguishes murder from manslaughter is the time it takes for someone to go through with it. Finally, the victim needs to be the one who provoked you. Just because you felt like taking your anger out on a helpless pedestrian after you find your lover in bed with someone else doesn’t convert a murder into a manslaughter.
Next, under ORC § 2903.04, there is involuntary manslaughter. This requires someone to cause the death of another while attempting or committing a felony or a certain type of misdemeanor, which is a lesser type of offense. Now, causation in Ohio criminal law gets surprisingly esoteric or technical. You’ll see a lot of stuff about “proximate causation.” A felony proximately causes a death if it is in the same transaction or continuous sequence of events as the underlying crime. So, for example, if someone breaks into an old woman’s house and scares the woman so badly that she dies of fright, the trespasser is the proximate cause of her death. What’s the difference between this and aggravated murder? Well, remember that in aggravated murder you still needed to have the intent to kill someone. Here, you don’t need intent but merely the proximate cause and the underlying offense. The misdemeanor can’t be a municipal ordinance or minor motor vehicle misdemeanor.
Also, let’s discuss reckless homicide and negligent homicide under ORC § 2903.041 and .05. A reckless homicide is just causing someone’s death recklessly, meaning that you knew what you were doing could cause their death but you did it anyway. Negligent homicide is causing someone’s death negligently, which is that the accused you caused the death with your unreasonable behavior that a reasonable person would not engage in. Waving a loaded weapon around with your finger on the trigger will result in reckless homicide when the weapon unintentionally fires and kills another person. A hunter who fails to be certain of his target may be guilty of negligent homicide. As may a person who leaves a loaded weapon where a child finds it and the result is someone’s death.
And there are vehicular variants of all the offenses I listed, including vehicular homicide, aggravated vehicular homicide, and vehicular manslaughter. These forms of homicide are under ORC § 2903.06. First, these all require you to cause a death while “operating” or “participating” in the vehicle’s operation. “Operating” would be something like driving or moving, in the case of a car or a boat. “Participating” can’t be a passive or remote action but doesn’t require much physical participation. In State v. Hann, the Court of Appeals found that a man who jumped into a getaway car that his friend drove to escape after they failed to cash a forged check, where they then crashed into and killed another driver, “participated” in the vehicular homicide. The court found this because of the man’s interest in escaping, the fact that he tore up the check and threw it out the window while being chased by the police, and his plan to flee. So, actually getting into a car can be enough to charge you with vehicular homicide, given the right set of facts.
But aggravated vehicular homicide requires a “reckless” state of mind. You have to know the risk of killing someone and proceed. This can include a lot of conduct, from driving drunk, driving at someone to scare or startle them, or even driving a car that is such a piece of junk that you know it is a danger to everyone. However, just driving fast isn’t necessarily “reckless.” For vehicular homicide, you just need to be “negligent,” or cause someone’s death because you did something a reasonable person wouldn’t do, or you have to cause a death in a construction zone if there’s a victim there at the time of the killing and there are signs warning you not to speed. Finally, vehicular manslaughter is a death you are the proximate cause of because you violated a minor misdemeanor or ordinance law, such as speeding.
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