Drastic changes to homicide law formulated

Under the existing law, unlawful killing can fall under three categories: murder, manslaughter and causing death by negligence.

By
August 25, 2011 04:39
3 minute read.
Karp murder suspects reenact scene

Karp 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

A commission of legal experts appointed by the Justice Ministry released on Wednesday a final report detailing recommendations for far-reaching changes to the Homicide Law.

Led by Professor Mordechai Kremnitzer of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the commission was appointed in 2007 by then justice minister, Professor Daniel Friedman.

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Their report recommends far-reaching amendments to the existing law, which commission members say is out of date.

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Legal experts had called for years for this legislation, which has remained unchanged since the British Mandate, to be updated.

Under the existing law, unlawful killing can fall under three categories: murder, manslaughter and causing death by negligence.

While a murder conviction carries a mandatory life sentence, manslaughter attracts a much lighter sentence of up to 20 years of imprisonment.

However, to convict someone of murder, prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that even the most brutal and unprovoked killing was premeditated.

The drastic implications of that law were made clear in the recent legal storm that swept the country following the manslaughter conviction of three Jaljulya men who brutally beat and kicked Arik Karp to death on a Tel Aviv beach.

The Tel Aviv District Court’s decision to convict Karp’s killers – Jamil Ades, Abed al-Rahman Ades and a minor who cannot be named – of manslaughter rather than murder after judges ruled that the prosecution had not proven beyond all reasonable doubt that Karp’s killing had been intentional.

However, according to attorney Amir Fuchs, a constitutional law expert from the Israel Democracy Institute and one of the legal experts appointed to the Justice Ministry’s commission to amend the Homicide Law, under the proposed new law Karp’s three killers would likely be convicted of murder.

That is because the proposed new legislation replaces the old murder charge definition with a new hierarchy of murder charges.

The first level, called the basic murder charge, will include two degrees of murder, the first being premeditated murder.

It will also include a second-degree murder charge, which would include spur of the moment killings in which the killers did not care whether the victim lived or died.

That second-degree murder charge would fit the Karp case, said Fuchs.

“Although under existing law, the Karp killing was not murder, because the judges found that the killers did not intend to kill Karp,” said Fuchs. “However under the new system it would fall under the basic murder charge.”

This charge will attract a maximum penalty of life imprisonment, giving judges more options in terms of sentencing, Fuchs noted.

Also included in the proposed new system is a a charge of murder with aggravating circumstances, which will also carry a mandatory life sentence.

Acts of terror will also fall under this category, as will the murder of a minor or public official, murders connected with sex crimes and racially-motivated murders.

The majority of the commission agreed that this charge will carry a mandatory life sentence. However, commission members from the Public Defender’s office believe that courts should have the option to deviate from the mandatory punishment in cases where there are mitigating circumstances.

The commission also recommended removing the existing charge of manslaughter completely.

Instead, it proposed replacing it with three new offenses: killing in circumstances of reduced liability, including after prolonged abuse or in self-defense; causing death by negligence; or ‘mercy killing’ at the request of a person suffering from a medical condition.

The report has been submitted to the Justice Minister for review and will then be proposed as a first reading in Knesset.


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