Saturday, February 15, 2014

Germany still has Nazi Murder Law on books

A surviving statute in German law, written in 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. 

This means that a man who beats his wife over many years, finally killing her, is less likely to be convicted of murder, with a mandatory life sentence, than to be convicted of manslaughter, which may mean only five years in jail. The argument is that there was nothing "sneaky" or "treacherous" about the killing - it was frontal and direct and might have been expected. 

The Nazis defined murder in the light of their belief that some people were inherently weak-minded. It was about defining a murderer as someone treacherous rather than looking at the circumstances of each individual crime. 

East Germany had a different law, closer to the idea in the UK and many other countries that murder was about an intention to kill or cause serious injury. But with the unification of Germany in 1990, the law of West Germany became the law of the land. 

The Nazi law favored - and still favors - the strong who murder the weak. 

"… battered women were more often convicted of murder than violent men," one study found. 

Lawyers who want the law changed to bring it into line with countries such as the UK and US, cite the case of Marianne Bachmeier. 

On 6 March 1981, she took a gun into the court where the killer of her seven-year-old daughter was standing trial. She went up to him and shot him. When she had done so, she said: "Hopefully, he's dead." He was. She then lowered her gun, without any attempt to flee. 

The German legal system decided that this could not be manslaughter, despite the trauma caused to Bachmeier by the death and abuse of her daughter. It had to be murder because the victim couldn't have expected the attack - he was, after all, in a court room. 

There was a national uproar. Programs were aired with the title "I'd have shot him too". In the end, but only after four weeks of convoluted legal argument, the murder charge was dropped but the principle still stands - killing a person who doesn't expect it must be murder. 

Advocates of a change in the law also cite another controversial case.  

In 2001, one Armin Meiwes posted an advert on the Cannibal Cafe website for a "well-built 18 to 30-year-old to be slaughtered and then consumed". 

Many responded but only one didn't back out - Bernd Juergen Armando Brandes, an engineer from Berlin. The two met on 21 March and, true to his word, Meiwes killed Brandes and ate parts of him. None of this is in dispute. A video was made. Meiwes fried the victim's penis in butter with salt, pepper, wine and garlic. 

The killer's defense was that his victim had consented to the death. The law accepted that it couldn't be murder - since the victim had consented to his death there couldn't be anything "treacherous" or "sneaky" about the killing. Meiwes was sentenced to eight years in prison for manslaughter. 

Again there was uproar, with much arguing of the fine points by lawyers, and a retrial was ordered. The second court decided that it was, indeed, murder. There may have been no sneakiness involved but Meiwes had acted to satisfy his sexual depravity - another clause in the Nazi law which distinguishes murder from manslaughter.  

He remains in prison. For that he can thank the fact that not all Nazi law continues. Most was repealed - including the death penalty. 

Today's Reflection:
If we desire to preserve peace, one of the most powerful instruments of our rising properisty, it must be known that we are prepared for war.
--George Washington

Live Long and Prosper...

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