BBC: The Nazi murder law that still exists

BBC News has a long article by Stephen Evans on The Nazi murder law that still exists. I missed this (thanks, Robin!)

A surviving statute from 1941 means that women who kill their abusive husbands are more likely to be jailed for murder than husbands who beat their wives to death.

According to the German Association of Lawyers, the Nazis decided that a murderer was someone who killed “treacherously” or “sneakily” – “heimtueckisch” is the word in the law and it remains there today.

I did mention this in two 2003 posts, here and here. The 1941 murder definition, which still applies, is based on the mentality of the perpetrator.

The Mordparagraf has been in the news recently, as the minister of justice of Schleswig-Holstein, Anke Spoorendonk (a Dane – there is a Danish party in that Land which is permitted to sit even if it doesn’t pass the five-per-cent hurdle), is campaigning to have the statute changed. Die Zeit:

70 Jahre lang galt in Deutschland die nüchterne Definition des Reichsstrafgesetzbuches von 1871, nach der Mord “die Tödtung mit Überlegung” sei. Aber seit weiteren 70 Jahren gilt die moralisch-charakterliche Definition des NS-Staates, nach der “Mörder” ist, wer “aus niedrigen Beweggründen” töte.

There is no definition of murder, only of the murderer.

Both the BBC and Die Zeit refer to the Marianne Bachmeier case as one where a woman was likely to be found guilty of murder because shooting the killer of her daughter in court behind his back was heimtückisch (deceitful?) – and say that women who kill abusive husbands are more likely to be convicted of murder than men who kill their wives. But I can’t see how Bachmeier would not have been convicted of murder in England – does anyone disagree? She took the gun to the courtroom, shot at the man and then said she hoped he was dead. The defence of provocation would not apply, because so much time had passed since the death.

Heimtücke ist das Mordmerkmal der Schwachen. Wenn Frauen Männer töten, geschieht das deutlich seltener in offener Konfrontation als in der umgekehrten Konstellation.

But in the common law too, there has been criticism of the way women cannot usually rely on the defence of provocation. Sharon Byrd, well-known to translators for her books on legal language and her editing of the Romain dictionary, has written on the subject: Putative Self-Defense and Rules of Imputation. In Defense of the Battered Woman
. (That’s not the Sharon Byrd wanted in connection with the fatal stabbing of her husband).

The English definition of murder is also pretty weird, is still case law from some centuries ago, but has been shaped by the courts in their continuing redefinition of malice aforethought, which sounds as if it applied only to planned killings, but certainly applies to killings in the heat of the moment too – intention is required, not planning. And the German courts have shaped Paragraph 211 too.

Zwar ist der subjektive Ermessensspielraum der Richter längst durch eine Vielzahl von Regelbeispielen eingeschränkt. Aber warum sollte das Problem nur eingeschränkt und nicht behoben werden? In der Fachwelt herrscht Einigkeit, dass der Mord-Paragraf als Täterstrafrecht mit dem tatbestandsorientierten Rechtssystem der Bundesrepublik kaum zu vereinbaren ist.

The Zeit article also looks to Swiss law (also with a definition based on the perpetrator, which dates from 1942 but goes back to 19th-century ideas), and Austrian law, which solves the problem more elegantly. It apparently defines murder as every kind of intentional killing, but allows a wide range of punishments. The only criticism is that the word murder is used for a wide range of homicide offences.

Das österreichische Modell hat aus Soyers Sicht lediglich den Nachteil, “dass bei uns alles Mord heißt”. Warum also nicht von “vorsätzlicher Tötung” als gemeinsamem Grundtatbestand ausgehen? “Das Wort ‘Mord’ sollte man tatsächlich streichen”, sagt der Hamburger Kriminologe Klaus Sessar, und stattdessen lediglich zwischen fahrlässiger und vorsätzlicher Tötung unterscheiden. Der weit gefasste Strafrahmen des österreichischen Mord-Paragrafen erlaubt Strafen, die der jeweiligen Schuld und Tag angemessen sind, vor allem aber verzichtet er auf den Automatismus lebenslanger Haft.

2 thoughts on “BBC: The Nazi murder law that still exists

  1. The article on the BBC actually outraged me for that organisation. How, as a journalist for the BBC, (which has an reputation to loose) can you actually publish an article that is so badly researched and so completely relies on the NAZI headline to get clicks.

    This newish Berlin correspondent for the BBC is baaaad. He puts one bad article in after another. And I fall asleep when he comes on telly.

    He completely misses why the murder definition is actually being critized.

    And he fails to accurately describe what the murder definition in England and the US entails.

    You wrote a better article for free on this blog. Paid for journalism can’t and shouldn’t survive on this evidence.

  2. “But I can’t see how Bachmeier would not have been convicted of murder in England – does anyone disagree? ”

    NOOO She took a gun in a COURTROOM and shoot somebody point blank. The only way would be an extremly sympathetic jury ignoring the law.

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