Justice Minister May Create New Murder Categories

Panel of legal experts recommends two levels of murder in penal code; committee appointed in 2007 to re-evaluate crimes related to death in penal code.

A panel of legal experts has recommended that new legislation establish two levels of murder in the penal code: One, "basic murder," would carry a maximum sentence of life in prison; the second, "murder under aggravated circumstances," would carry a mandatory life sentence.

The panel also called for doing away with the charge of manslaughter and for legislating three different crimes instead, each of which would carry different maximum sentences.

The committee - appointed in 2007 by then-Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann and headed by Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer - had been tasked with reevaluating the various crimes in the penal code related to causing death, as well as the punishments for those crimes. Committee members included Justice Ministry officials, lawyers from the Public Defenders Office and experts affiliated with the Israel Democracy Institute.

Currently, murder carries a mandatory life sentence, but the panel felt this mandate prohibits judges from taking into account individual circumstances.

The panel recommends that basic murder refer to the killing of someone with intent or indifference.

Murder under aggravated circumstances would refer to 13 specific types of deliberate killings - among them: a killing motivated by racism or hostility toward a particular group; a killing to prevent the victim's testimony in a criminal proceeding; the killing of a member of law enforcement; the killing of a president, minister, MK or head of a local authority; and a killing that is part of an organized crime or terror operation.

To replace manslaughter, the panel suggests three new crimes: killing under mitigating circumstances; killing irresponsibly; and killing at the request of the victim.

Killing under mitigating circumstances would include cases in which the victim had been abusing the killer for a long period of time, or a killing by someone whose understanding or ability to restrain themselves is limited due to an emotional disturbance or mental deficiency.

The maximum sentence for this crime would be 20 years.

Killing irresponsibly would apply to cases in which the perpetrator hopes that the assault does not cause death, but knows nonetheless that death is a possible outcome. This would carry a maximum nine-year sentence.

Killing at the request of the victim would cover cases of euthanasia in which the victim is suffering from a difficult medical condition and asks in a level-headed and aware manner to be put to death. This crime would carry a maximum five-year sentence.

The panel also recommended a new designated crime called "causing death by extreme negligence," which would apply to perpetrators who are fully aware of their actions and are negligent regarding the possibly fatal results.

This would be a more serious crime than merely causing death by negligence.

It appears that Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman will embrace the panel's recommendations and initiate relevant legislation in the coming months.