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murder ≠ Mord

In English law, “murder” describes an unlawful and deliberate homicide, carried out with the intention to kill or cause grievous bodily harm, and where the perpetrator did not act with diminished responsibility. In this way it is different from the lesser offence of “manslaughter”, which refers to unlawful homicide which is not deliberate, or where there is a partial defence. (cf. Oxford Law Dictionary) While the court has discretion when sentencing manslaughter, the offence of murder attracts a mandatory life sentence.

The German concept of “Mord”, on the other hand, has a rather higher threshold for conviction. While it also describes an unlawful and deliberate homicide, in order for such a deliberate homicide to be classed as “Mord” under German law, certain aggravating circumstances need to be satisfied, which show that the offence is particularly reprehensible, with regards to the motive, the modalities and aim of the crime (cf. Creifelds Rechtswörterbuch). It must be distinguished from “Totschlag” which also refers to unlawful and deliberate homicide, but in a situation where those particular aggravating circumstances are absent. Therefore it is those aggravating circumstance, the so-called “Mordmerkmale” (murder criteria), which tip an offence from “Totschlag” to “Mord”, which has significant consequences for sentencing. If the court finds that a Mord has been committed, the sentence is automatically life imprisonment, while in the case of “Totschlag” the minimum sentence is 5 years.

This shows that the concepts of “murder” and “Mord” are only marginally equivalent and using them in a translation without any further explanation would be unwise. Otherwise, the German reader would get the impression of a far more serious crime than the one that was mentioned in the English text. As the translation of a term is strongly influenced by the focus of the source text, it is difficult to suggest only one term in German. Possibilities, however, would be: “Totschlag im anglo-amerikanischem Recht”, “vorsätzliche Tötung” or similar.

Translating from German into English, we suggest to use “murder under specific aggravating circumstances (Mord)”.


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