The crime of homicide occurs when someone unjustifiably takes another person’s life. Homicide charges fall into several subcategories; the circumstances and severity of the defendant’s actions determine what charges may apply. The different levels of homicide crimes are extremely varied. Depending on the jurisdiction and whether it was a state or federal offense, penalties can range from six months in prison for involuntary manslaughter up to the death penalty for first degree murder.
Homicides can range from a planned, detailed, intentional killings to negligent accidents. Typically, a homicide charge falls under the following categories:
Murder is usually defined as the intentional, unexcused killing of another person. If someone follows through with an action for the purpose of taking another person’s life, knowing that it will take a person’s life, or knowing that it could take a persons life but is done anyway in total disregard for the potential consequence, they could be charged with murder. Specific degrees of murder charges include:
Voluntary manslaughter, or manslaughter in some jurisdictions, usually applies to homicides that were either accidental, but reckless, or intentional, but adequately provoked.
Depending on the state, manslaughter may be further classified by varying degrees (first degree manslaughter, second degree manslaughter, etc.). Based on the trial court’s jurisdiction, the circumstances of the criminal offense, and the severity of the offense, those convicted of voluntary manslaughter typically face a prison sentence of 3 to 10 years.
Involuntary manslaughter, called negligent homicide in some jurisdictions, occurs when a defendant’s careless act causes another person’s death. This type of criminal charge often involves a person taking unreasonable risks while unaware of the danger they’re creating, but it’s a danger they should have been aware of. Deadly car accidents caused by a distracted driver may fall under an involuntary manslaughter charge.
Jail time for involuntary manslaughter convictions can range from a couple of months to a couple of years.
When trying any kind of homicide case, the court will need to prove that a defendant’s actions caused the victim’s death. Defenses against these claims can include alibis for the time and location of the crime, or perhaps that whatever the defendant’s actions were, they were not what caused the victim to die.
The prosecution must also prove the defendant’s intent in a homicide case, as that plays a significant roll in how severe the charges will be. Defense options may include challenging evidence of premeditation, demonstrating a qualifying provocation to change a murder charge to a manslaughter charge, or claims of self-defense.
Eye-witness testimony, phone and search engine records, forensics, and expert-witness testimony are common forms of evidence that the opposing side may use to try and prove a defendant’s guilt.
Homicide trials are jury trials by default, unless a defendant has reason to request a bench trial. The jury would need to find that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt for the court to hand down a sentence; this doesn’t mean they can acquit because of any highly improbable, but technically possible, alternative explanations, but with sufficient questions to the defendant’s case the jury could render a not guilty verdict.
Homicide charges are among the most severe criminal charges a person can face and can carry the harshest possible penalties. Setting up a strong defense is essential for preventing a life sentence in prison, or even the death penalty.
Hiring a criminal defense lawyer with experience in homicide cases could improve the odds of a positive outcome.
A criminal defense lawyer can help:
Finding the right criminal defense attorney could help a homicide defendant prevent devastating consequences from their charges.