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Depraved Heart Killings

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While manslaughter and murder are crimes that will be tried in court by the State, wrongful death lawsuits can be filed by one party against another, which are considered torts. Even defendants who have committed murder can be called to face wrongful death lawsuits. Sometimes the deaths were not caused by straight-out murder, but rather through negligence. That is, deaths that may not have been deliberate in nature, but were still caused by the defendant. Additionally, some cases straddle the line between deliberate murder and negligent death.

You may have come across the term “depraved heart killing” in the past, but been unsure of what it was. It’s a term that place in between murder and death caused by gross negligence. A depraved heart killing is one in which someone has shown negligence to the point of having seemingly no concern for human life. Such a case can be tried in both a criminal court and a civil court. This means that someone can be both tried by the state and sued by a private citizen for the same crime.

In a depraved heart killing, the defendant has acted in such a way that his actions may have caused or contributed to someone’s death, but the death was no necessarily deliberate. The key is that the defendant showed virtually no regard to the safety or value of the human life. However, the death in some ways can be considered deliberate, since the defendant’s negligence was an active choice.

You may still have some questions about what depraved heart killings are, which can be answered by examples. The following are examples of depraved heart killings:

  • A man fires a gun randomly. Though he does not intend to injure or kill anyone, his choice to fire the gun recklessly is an active choice and he is therefore guilty of gross negligence.
  • A woman drives home drunk from a bar. She knows that she is drunk and that drunk driving is not only against the law, but wildly dangerous as well. While driving home, she hits and kills a pedestrian. Because she made the choice to drive impaired but did not deliberately kill the pedestrian, she may be found guilty of a depraved heart murder.
  • A man drives his speedboat into a part of the beach where there are many swimmers, killing two. This is also negligent, even though he did not intend to hurt anyone.


Source by Joseph Devine

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