But what exactly do "willfulness," "deliberation," and "premeditation" mean? They each have distinct legal definitions that may not be exactly what you think.
Willful simply means on purpose. Someone commits murder willfully when he or she intends to kill. He or she kills on purpose.
Deliberate means to to carefully weigh the considerations for and against killing, and to choose to kill knowing the consequences.
Premedite means to decide to kill before taking action. A murder is premeditated if the killer decides to kill before actually killing.
Most people think these words and definitions imply a lengthy and considered decision-making process. However, a person can deliberate and premeditate in a very short amount of time.
Depending on all the circumstances, mere seconds can suffice for someone to arrive at a thought-out -- premeditated and deliberate -- decision to kill.
As discussed in this article explaining states of mind, it can be very difficult to determine a defendant's state of mind (or mens rea). It is almost always determined by circumstantial evidence.
Things like the manner of killing, any planning activity, and motive, can be powerful circumstantial evidence of the killer's state of mind.
Check out this article exploring the difficulties of determining the defendant's state of mind in a case where a middle school student shot another student in the head during class.
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