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Israel: New Categories of Killing Offenses Go into Effect

(Aug. 9, 2019) On July 10, 2019, new penal law categories of offenses causing death went into effect, replacing the former categories that previously applied. (Penal Law (Amendment No. 137), 5779-2019, Sefer HaHukim [SH] 5779 No. 2779 p. 230 (Amendment Law), amending Penal Law, 5733-1977, SH 5733 No. 864 p. 226, as amended, as applied before July 10, 2019; the complete text of the amended Penal Law (Law as amended) is available in the Nevo Legal Database (by subscription) (all sources in Hebrew).)

The former categories of offenses causing death were “manslaughter,” “murder,” and “premeditation.” The following describes the new categories.

“Murder” generally applies to causing the death of a person intentionally or indifferently. (Law as amended § 300(a).) Commentators characterize stabbing to death during a quarrel or lethal stone throwing as examples of acts that may qualify as murder under suitable circumstances.

The offense of “murder under aggravated circumstances” applies in specific situations, including when the murder was premeditated and when it was committed to facilitate or conceal the commission of another offense punishable by at least seven years’ imprisonment, or to enable its perpetrator to escape justice. (Law as amended §§ 301 A(a)(1) & (2).) Murder under aggravated circumstances also applies when the victim was a witness, or expected to give a testimony in a criminal trial, or was a judge in a criminal trial and the murder was intended to harm the legal process (id. § 301 A(4)); when the killing was motivated by racism or hate based on the victim’s religion, religious group, ethnic origin, or sexual orientation, or on racism toward or hate for foreign workers (id. § 144 A(4)); when the victim was the perpetrator’s spouse, and the perpetrator had subjected the spouse to persistent and systematic physical or emotional abuse (id. § 144 A(6)); when the act was done with special cruelty, or physical or mental abuse of the victim (id. § 144 A(7)); or when the victim was a minor or under the care of the perpetrator (id. § 301 A(8)). While the punishment for murder is usually a life sentence, in the case of a conviction for murder under aggravated circumstances, a life sentence is mandatory.

“Killing under circumstances of reduced liability,” which is generally punishable by 15 years’ imprisonment, applies when the perpetrator, in a state of severe mental distress due to severe and prolonged abuse inflicted on him/her or a member of his/her family by a person, intentionally or indifferently causes the death of that person. (Id. § 301 B(a).) The penalty is increased to 20 years’ imprisonment when the perpetrator intentionally or indifferently causes the death of another soon after being provoked and the perpetrator had significant difficulty in controlling his/her rage. Similarly, 20 years’ imprisonment may generally be imposed on a person who causes the death of another intentionally or indifferently when, due to a severe mental disorder or mental impairment, his/her ability to comprehend the nature of the act and the need to refrain from committing it was considerably limited. (Id. § 301 B(b).)

A new offense punishable by 12 years’ imprisonment applies to a killing that, according to the explanatory notes of the Amendment Law’s bill, is a “lighter” offense than that of killing under circumstances of reduced liability. This offense is considered more severe than a negligent killing, which is punishable by three years’ imprisonment. (Id. § 304.) The elements of the offense, although not specified, are assumed to be similar to those involved in reckless behavior resulting in death. According to a Ynet newspaper op-ed, this offense applies when there was no intention to harm, and although the death resulting from the act was expected, the perpetrator wished that it would not have occurred. Serious accidents are an example of acts that may qualify under this offense.