Familicide – aggravated and mitigating circumstances?
Written by: Mirjana Kondor Langer
Family presents the backbone of society. Unfortunately, various forms of criminal violence occur among family members as well. Sooner or later, more or less, every family has to deal with various disputes and conflicts. However, in some families, those disputes and conflicts assume destructive proportions. In their milder forms, these manifest themselves through family violence, sometimes with very serious consequences, that is, the death of one or more family members. These are mostly cases of murder or aggravated family murder (Kondor-Langer, 2015).
The paper gives a brief overview of a judgment in a particular case of the Varaždin County Court. This judgment is interesting in the context of circumstances that certain courts take into account as mitigating or aggravating when selecting the type and range of punishment for defendants who committed familicide.
In the judgment mentioned above, on 25th November 2008, the Varaždin County Court passed a sentence against the defendant K.M. for the commission of a criminal offense described in art. 90 of the Criminal Code from 1997. The defendant was sentenced to 12 years in prison for killing his wife (murder). Since he already had a previous conviction, (one year and two months prison sentence), the defendant K.M. was sentenced to a unique sentence in a total of 13 years in prison.
Based on the verdict, on 19th March 2008, in the afternoon hours in a family house, the defendant assaulted his wife Ž.M. with intent to kill her by stabbing two times with an 11-centimeter blade knife in her belly and chest. With the same knife he cut her three times in the neck area and one time in the left ventricle. So, he inflicted a stab wound to the right side of her belly under the ribs and a stab wound to the upper left side of her chest causing an organ penetrating wound (lungs). He also inflicted cuts to the neck area and the left thigh, causing injuries that led to his wife’s instant death.
In deciding upon the range of punishment, the Varaždin County Court determined following aggravating circumstances: the commission of a criminal offense with a direct intent, a high degree of peril of such acts, recidivism in the commission of criminal offenses, the age of the victim (24 years), high degree of persistence and brutality which he showed by committing the offense (means, wounds and parts of the injured body).
One of the mitigating circumstances that the court determined was the fact that the defendant had married the victim just before the incriminating event and that she evidently represented a close and significant person for him.
Although, de lege late, the Criminal Code from 2011 is in force, at the time of the commission of this criminal offence the Criminal Code from 1997 was in force. In both Criminal Codes the circumstances that are taken into account when deciding the punishment for the defendant are prescribed.
In Article 56. of the Criminal Code from 1997 a general rule on the selection of the type and range of the punishment was prescribed. It was based on the degree of guilt, the peril of the offense and the purpose of the punishment. In paragraph 2 of the above-mentioned article, circumstances (mitigating and aggravating) that had an influence on the type and range of the punishment were suggested. It was not legally determined which ones were mitigating, and which were aggravating. After their determination, the court evaluated their meaning in the specific case and the type and range of the punishment were suggested based on the overall assessment.
So, murders and aggravated murders, especially those of family members, have a destructive effect on the social environment. They make people feel uneasy, insecure and undermine citizens’ trust in state institutions, especially the police and the authorities competent for criminal proceedings, as well as in the competence of those institutions to protect them from crime. De lege lata, the criminal legislation of the Republic of Croatia provides enhanced legal protection in case of a murder of a close person who has already been abused by the offender (Kondor-Langer, 2015). Contrary to it, the Criminal Code from 1997 did not prescribe such provisions. Although taking into an account that the family is considered as a backbone of society and that spouses should mutually help each other, it’s absurd that the Varaždin County Court considered the marriage, which happened close to the event and the fact that she evidently represented him a close and significant person as mitigating circumstances for the defendant.
Criminal Code, Offical Gazette No. 125/11, 144/12, 56/16, 61/15, 101/17, 118/18.
Criminal Code, Official Gazette No. 110/97, 27/98, 50/00, 129/00, 51/01, 111/03, 190/03, 105/04, 84/05, 71/06, 110/07, 152/08.
Judgement of the Varaždin County Court, No. VIII K.18/08-43.
Kondor-Langer, M., Kriminološki i kaznenopravni aspekti ubojstva i teškoga ubojstva u obitelji, doktorski rad, Zagreb, 2015.