Two Legal Systems and the Term Homicide
can homicide vary from country to country?
Hence, a legal background contributes significantly to the translator’s and interpreter’s professional success, as such knowledge will be crucial for avoiding erroneous translations such as homicídio-suicídio and homicídio involuntário (meant to correspond to the English terms “homicide-suicide” and “involuntary manslaughter,” respectively), which have no equivalents in the Brazilian system, despite their appearing in renown Brazilian bilingual dictionaries. Expressions such as these only confuse readers and make it difficult to understand the text, consequently preventing a complete understanding of the target legal system.
If we research the crime of homicide in the Brazilian and English systems, we will surely find terms such as homicídio, homicídio simples, homicídio culposo, homicídio culposo simples, homicídio culposo qualificado, homicídio doloso, homicídio qualificado, homicídio privilegiado, homicídio, homicídio simples, homicídio culposo, homicídio culposo simples, homicídio culposo qualificado, homicídio doloso, homicídio qualificado, homicídio privilegiado, homicide, manslaughter, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, constructive manslaughter, gross negligence manslaughter and murder.
These are the terms that I will attempt to translate as precisely as possible by means of a perfunctory analysis of the Brazilian and English legal systems and by outlining in general terms the crime of homicide in both legal systems. Finally, I will conclude with a list of Portuguese/English terms of likely equivalents.
This is a crime against life subject to trial by jury, as is the case of abortion (articles 124 to 128), infanticide, (article 123) as well as inducement and instigation to or assistance with suicide (article 122). For all of these crimes, the value in question is human life. The crime of homicide (article 121 of the Penal Code) has its sub-divisions: homicídio simples (caput); homicídio privilegiado (§ 1); homicídio qualificado (§ 2); homicídio culposo (§§ 3, 4 and 5) and homicídio doloso (§ 4). The caput of article 121, the briefest in the legal text under consideration, states: “To kill someone. Sentence – imprisonment from 6 to 20 years.” The penal type defines homicídio simples.
However, this penalty can be reduced. In order to receive the benefit of a less severe sentence, the defendant must prove that he/she committed the crime:
In these instances, the crime would be defined as homicídio privilegiado, and the circumstances subject to consideration by the jury.
The following paragraph describes homicídio qualificado, which results in a sentence of imprisonment of 12 to 30 years. Homicide will fall under this category when committed:
Following this very brief explanation, the definition of homicídio doloso should also be clarified. The crime of homicídio doloso is a crime committed intentionally. In other words, the agent desired or accepted the risk of causing the victim’s death, differently from what happens with homicídio culposo, whereby the perpetrator acts unwisely, negligently or with a lack of skill. The homicídios qualificados in § 2 are all homicídios dolosos.
The homicídio culposo described in §§ 3 and 4 is a crime committed by an agent who did not wish for the resulting death. It may be caused by negligence (oversight in the general obligation to exercise caution), unwise action (a dangerous action) or lack of knowledge (unable to effectively perform an activity or function). Homicídio culposo may also be qualificado when:
Should none of the above situations take place (§ 4), homicídio culposo shall be defined as simples. A unique aspect of homicídio culposo is the fact that a judge may refrain from applying the standard sentence if the consequences of the violation affected the agent in such a serious manner that a penal sanction should become unnecessary, as for example in the case in which the agent becomes paralytic or in the case of the death of the agent’s child. In short, these instances constitute homicide in the Brazilian legal system. Let us now turn our attention to the English system.
Homicide is the class under which murder and manslaughter are classified. Therefore, the crime of murder, which carries the most severe punishments in the English legal system (life imprisonment), is considered a common law offense (a crime included in jurisprudence and one with no definition in a legal text), being defined by Coke as the following:
Using this concept, we are able to point out the elements that define homicide as a crime of murder. They are:
As demonstrated by the division of the above definition, the crime of homicide and the crime of homicídio do not display the same elements, making it difficult to use the correct terminology and preventing a perfect parallel between the Brazilian and English systems. Nevertheless, this issue will become clearer after we examine the term manslaughter.
Under different conditions, the crime of murder may not qualify as manslaughter, a crime resulting in a less severe sentence. A similar situation occurs in the Brazilian system when homicídio simples does not qualify as culposo or privilegiado, for example, or when homicídio is not considered a crime in light of one of the excluding factors (legitimate self-defense, state of necessity, strict compliance with legal obligations, regular exercise of law) as described in articles 23 to 25 in the General Section of the Brazilian Penal Code.
Hence, there are two types of manslaughter: voluntary and involuntary. Voluntary manslaughter occurs when the defendant avails him/herself of the three statutory defenses described in the 1957 Homicide Act: provocation, diminished responsibility and suicide pact. The defendant may avail him/herself of the general defenses applicable to all crimes, including: mistake, ignorance of law, intoxication, insanity, duress, etc. which as a rule in Brazil are known as attenuating and aggravating circumstances (atenuantes and agravantes). Nonetheless, I include here only those defenses described in the Homicide Act:
Finally, before establishing a relationship between the two systems in the third and final part of this article, allow me to comment on involuntary manslaughter. The crime of involuntary manslaughter occurs when the agent has no intention of committing (mens rea) murder. Below are some examples: Punching the victim, who falls and dies, threatening someone with a loaded firearm which fires accidentally.
The crime of involuntary manslaughter can be subdivided into two main categories: constructive manslaughter and gross negligence manslaughter.
Constructive manslaughter occurs when the agent practices unlawful and dangerous acts that can lead to physical harm or death. Evidently, the agent does not intend to cause death, which arises from unlawful and dangerous conduct. However, the agent did intend to perform the unlawful and dangerous act.
Gross negligence manslaughter is also described in jurisprudence and was defined in R v Bateman (1925) [19 Cr App R 8]:
The dividing line between the categories of involuntary manslaughter is not clear, and in many cases, a crime is classified under both.
How can the translator overcome these obstacles? In light of the technical aspects associated with this field, it is very dangerous to use homicídio-suicídio to describe voluntary manslaughter that results from a suicide pact. Readers who run across an expression like this one will surely understand nothing.
Perhaps a better solution (with the exception of the term’s broader context) would be a translation based on definitions. For example, voluntary manslaughter could be translated as homicídio privilegiado do sistema inglês with an additional explanation of what is the privilege involved; e.g., whether it refers to a suicide pact, diminished responsibility or provocation. Hence, the translator will convey the true sense of the word in the source language instead of employing terms that the reader cannot understand.
Luciana Carvalho Fonseca Corrêa Pinto is an author, legal translator and interpreter, lawyer and specialist in law with a degree from the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo (PUC/SP). She is currently working toward her master’s degree in translation and corpus linguistics at São Paulo University and teaches translation and interpretation at Associação Alumni.
This article was originally published in Сcaps Newsletter (http://www.ccaps.net)
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