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Judge’s opinion keeps colleague in suspense

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7th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Richard Posner had a fellow judge on the edge of his seat Thursday waiting to see how the opinion in a murder case would be decided. The court upheld a prisoner’s conviction of first-degree murder of the prisoner’s cellmate.

Daniel Delaney strangled his cellmate after finding out he was a convicted child molester. He had been in the cell with the man for a couple weeks before he beat him and strangled him. He originally told an FBI agent that he attacked the man “after some thought,” but Delaney later testified at trial that he had been sexually abused as a child and snapped after learning his cellmate was a child molester.

Delaney argued that the jury should have found that he killed in “the heat of passion” and therefore convicted him of only voluntary manslaughter.

In United States of America v. Daniel L. Delaney, 12-2849, Posner delved into the jury instructions given in this case for first-degree murder and manslaughter, and he noted the “archaic language” in the federal statutory provisions, such as “aforethought.”

“That such terms should appear in modern statutes and jury instructions … testifies to the legal profession’s linguistic conservatism,” he wrote. “And sometimes linguistic ineptitude.”

What is said to distinguish killing in the heat of passion from murder is absence of malice. The judge instructed the jury that it should convict Delaney of voluntary manslaughter if it found he killed “intentionally but without malice and in the heat of passion.”

“This is puzzling, because ‘malice aforethought’ in the statute means intent and so what does it mean to say that a person did something intentionally but without malice?” Posner pondered.

Ultimately, Delaney’s argument that the jury should have found he acted in the heat of passion failed because there was considerable evidence of forethought, much of it from his own statements admitting his cellmate “had to” be killed and he attacked the man “after some thought.”

Posner ended the opinion suggesting that “heat of passion” shouldn’t be thought a defense, as the “defense” just puts the government to its proof.

Judge William Bauer concurred, writing, “I have to admit that this opinion had me in suspense until the last minute. I’m not sure it provides a clear trail for future prosecutions but I sign on because the result is in keeping with the evidence.”

The panel on the case also included Judge John Tinder.

 

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  1. I just wanted to point out that Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, Senator Feinstein, former Senate majority leader Bill Frist, and former attorney general John Ashcroft are responsible for this rubbish. We need to keep a eye on these corrupt, arrogant, and incompetent fools.

  2. Well I guess our politicians have decided to give these idiot federal prosecutors unlimited power. Now if I guy bounces a fifty-dollar check, the U.S. attorney can intentionally wait for twenty-five years or so and have the check swabbed for DNA and file charges. These power hungry federal prosecutors now have unlimited power to mess with people. we can thank Wisconsin's Jim Sensenbrenner and Diane Feinstein, John Achcroft and Bill Frist for this one. Way to go, idiots.

  3. I wonder if the USSR had electronic voting machines that changed the ballot after it was cast? Oh well, at least we have a free media serving as vicious watchdog and exposing all of the rot in the system! (Insert rimshot)

  4. Jose, you are assuming those in power do not wish to be totalitarian. My experience has convinced me otherwise. Constitutionalists are nearly as rare as hens teeth among the powerbrokers "managing" us for The Glorious State. Oh, and your point is dead on, el correcta mundo. Keep the Founders’ (1791 & 1851) vision alive, my friend, even if most all others, and especially the ruling junta, chase only power and money (i.e. mammon)

  5. Hypocrisy in high places, absolute immunity handed out like Halloween treats (it is the stuff of which tyranny is made) and the belief that government agents are above the constitutions and cannot be held responsible for mere citizen is killing, perhaps has killed, The Republic. And yet those same power drunk statists just reel on down the hallway toward bureaucratic fascism.

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