Murder entails one or multiple people of sound mind killing another human being. In order for the crime to be considered murder rather than manslaughter, it must have been committed with malice aforethought. This means that the heinous act was thought about by the defendant before it was committed, it was intentional, and it was done willfully.

What is Malice?

Malice signifies a state of mind that compels an individual to intentionally cause harm to another person without just cause, reason, or excuse. The following are three components of malice or malice aforethought in a murder case:

  • Defendant had intent to kill;
  • Defendant intended to inflict serious bodily injury that caused the victim’s death; and
  • Defendant’s behavior showed extreme disregard for human life that resulted in death.

In criminal law, malicious acts may be prosecuted with severe consequences, including life in prison and the death penalty.

Do Malice and Criminal Intent Have the Same Legal Definition?

No, malice and criminal intent aren't the same because malice refers to an individual’s state of mind or their desire to engage in an evil or wrongful act. Whereas criminal intent refers to an individual’s intention to engage in a specific crime, rather than having a general desire to do something wrong. It’s not uncommon for crimes to have both elements, though many jurisdictions have removed malice from statutes.

Is Malice Only in Criminal Law?

In addition to criminal law, malice is an element in tort law. As a tort, malice refers to psychological or financial harm and not physical harm as seen in criminal law. For instance, if an individual attempted to smear someone’s name by writing a harmful book about them, the author could be sued for libel. The same goes for slander, which entails a false and malicious statement that is vocalized about a person. In order to prove libel or slander, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant maliciously engaged in the act.

Can I Go to Prison for Acting with Malice?

Prison is a possibility for defendants found guilty of acting with malice, as well as the severity of the crime. If the crime involved murder, the defendant may face life in prison or the death penalty, depending on state law.

Can I Go to Prison for Acting with Malice in a Tort Case?

Prison is not a remedy for tort cases, but you can be held liable in a civil lawsuit. Usually, the wronged person will be awarded damages in the form of money, and/or requiring the defendant to act or avoid acting in a manner that would serve as an attempt to remedy the harm caused to the plaintiff.

Should I Talk to a Lawyer About My Case?

If you are facing a charge involving malice, you should speak with a criminal defense attorney immediately. The legal consequences of any criminal charge can be severe, and an attorney can advise you of your rights and how to proceed with the court. An experienced lawyer in your area can also assemble a viable defense and represent your best interests in court.