“Knowing” vs. “Reckless” Homicide: How Is a Juror to Decide?


Someone convicted of a knowing homicide in Colorado is subject to a mandatory sentence of 16 to 48 years in prison. A reckless homicide brings a non-mandatory sentence of two to six years in prison. The problem, says a study by law and psychology professors reported by the National Law Journal, us that jurors may be unable to distinguish between knowing and reckless conduct, as defined by the Model Penal Code. The 50-year old code, adopted by most states, requires jurors to sort defendants into four categories of conduct: purposeful, knowing, reckless, and negligent.

Researchers conducted tests to gauge how well jurors identified those mental states and assigned punishment under varying degrees of exposure to the code’s definitions. “Our results suggest, by and large, that people are pretty good at this,” said Owen Jones, a law and biology professor at Vanderbilt University and director of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Research Network of Law and Neuroscience. “However, we were surprised by the apparent confusion between reckless and knowing.” The study, Sorting Guilty Minds, is in the November New York University Law Review.

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