Rachel Pomerantz is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania.
A basic role of criminal legal codes is to define illegal, or societally unacceptable, behaviors. The prohibition of murder is one of the most basic examples of this. Surprisingly, the German legal code currently does not define the act of murder, but instead states that a murderer is, “someone who causes the death of another person out of certain specified unacceptable motives, such as ‘murderous lust’ or the satisfaction of sexual desires, ‘greed or otherwise base motives,’ through treacherous or cruel methods or in order to cover up another crime.”  Someone convicted of murder, or Mord, must receive a life sentence. In the same section, Tötung, a crime that loosely translates to manslaughter, is described as murder without the aforementioned motives and carries a minimum sentence of 5 years.
It does not describe murder as an unjust act but instead as certain acts that reveal someone’s defective character. Yes, this phrasing seems odd and out of line with most modern legal definitions of murder. In fact, the origins of the definition reinforce this anomaly in the German legal system. The current definition of murder was written in 1941 by the infamous Nazi judge Roland Freisler.  After the war, the definition was accepted by West Germany while, like most European countries, East Germany defined murder in terms of an action. Upon reunification, the Nazi language applied to the entirety of Germany.