Any person subject to the UCMJ who, without justification or excuse, unlawfully kills a human being is guilty of murder. There are four ways murder can occur under the UCMJ:
Intent to Kill or Inflict Great Bodily Harm
Act Inherently Dangerous to Another
During Certain Offenses
The difference between premeditated murder and unpremeditated murder comes down to intent. Premeditation means that the thought of taking a life was “consciously conceived and the act or omission by which it was taken was intended.” This requires that the person form a “specific intent to kill someone” and “consideration of the act intended.” Premeditation does not necessarily mean that the murder was planned out long in advance—once a “fixed purpose to kill has been deliberately formed, it is immaterial how soon afterwards it is put into execution.”
Rule for Court-Martial 916 provides defenses to murder. These include justification (that the death caused was in the proper performance of a legal duty and is justified and not unlawful), obedience to orders, self-defense, accident, and lack of mental responsibility.
Voluntary intoxication (either by drugs or alcohol) is not a defense but may be admitted to raise reasonable doubt about the existence of actual knowledge, specific intent, willfulness, or premeditation. Voluntary intoxication may reduce premeditated murder to unpremeditated murder, but it will not reduce murder to manslaughter or any other lesser offenses.
The maximum sentence for premeditated murder or murder committed during certain other offenses is death. Both charges carry a mandatory minimum sentence of imprisonment for life with the eligibility for parole. The maximum sentence for unpremeditated murder under Article 118(2) or (3) is such punishment other than death as a court-martial may direct.
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