Killing; Of a human being



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The elements of murder are:

  1. Unlawful (without a legal excuse) (Larry’s Note:  don’t worry about this now.  All that is meant is that no defenses apply, which we will assume for now).

  2. Killing;

  3. Of a human being;

Committed with malice aforethought, which includes (a) intent to kill, (b) intent to inflict severe bodily injury, or (c) reckless indifference to an unjustifiably high risk to human life.
Aaron Burr totally hates Alexander Hamilton (“Ally” to his friends, but “Alex” to you.) because of some terrible things that Hamilton has said about Burr.  Burr challenges Hamilton to a duel:  pistols at dawn.  In New Jersey, of course.

The duel does not involve one of those “Old West”-style simultaneous draw-and-shoot.  Rather, a coin is tossed, and the winner gets to take slow aim and fire first.  (You have to remember that this was before rifled bores, and even if you aimed at a target there was a decent chance you would miss; guns were less reliable back in the days when men wore tights and wigs).

Aaron wins the coin toss.  Aaron just wanted to scare Alex with the duel and regrets his decision to challenge Alex.  Generally a poor shot, Aaron aims directly for Alexander Hamilton’s balls, perhaps assuming he will miss anyway.  He scores a direct hit, and Alex dies two days later.

Aaron Burr faced some liability for murder. First we note that Hamilton, a human being, died as a result of injuries sustained from the duel with Burr. The third point of “ Commited with malice aforethought” is more obviously the point at issue here. From the facts above, it does not seem that Burr’s intent was to kill Hamilton, but if that was not the case, then why did he even aim fire at Hamilton’s body. Sure there was a reasonable chance that the shot would miss, but it didn’t. Still, it should be taken into account that Burr did not aim at Hamilton’s head, or heart for example – places on the body, if shot at, seem far more likely to result in death. If Burr wasn’t intending to kill Hamilton, then at the very least it could be said that he was willing to harm him. While, he claims to “just wanting to scare him” with a duel, doesn’t the mere firing of a weapon in someone’s direction suffice as a scaring tactic? If the gun had a good chance of missing anyway, why point it at Hamilton anywhere on his body? Burr may, “assume that he will miss,” but he does not. It’s a straight shot. How can we prove intent here? Burr may have “assumed” he wasn’t a good shot, probably based on prior experience, but if you aim in the direction you shoot, there is a chance you’ll hit the target – maybe a slim chance then, but still a chance. Burr had to have know that aiming the shot in Hamilton’s direction, nay at his body, could potentially lead to harming him. Reckless indifference may come into play here, whereby Burr chose to shoot at Hamilton, knowing there was a possibility he could be harmed, and did so anyway.


What we need to delve further into, is the cause of Alex’s death. Burr does shoot Alex directly, but it does not state that he dies as a direct result of those injuries. Are we sure that Alex didn’t die two days later from being run over by a horse and carriage? Did he wife beat him to death after learning her husband took part in a duel? While that is unclear, it seems that the assumption to be made is that Alex died from complications or even directly from the wound he sustained from Aaron’s pistol. With that, then Alex’s death is a result of Burr’s actions. Without the duel, without the shot, without the injury, then Alex would still be alive (well not today, he just presumably would’ve lived longer). It is Burr’s actions that led to Alex’s death. Intent does matter, but Burr was seemingly in a rational state of mind. It doesn’t state that he was drunk, or under any type of influence, suffering from mental altering disease or even in a fit of range. In fact, Aaron regretting calling for a duel in the first place – in that case, why not call it off? Given this, Burr was thinking clearly and rationally, he knew that pointing a weapon at Alex and subsequently firing said weapon could, have deadly affects on his opponent. Of course he didn’t know for sure that it would or wouldn’t hit him or even kill him, but he did knowingly shoot a weapon in Alex’s direction.


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