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What Is Homicide?

Key Takeaways:

  • Homicide is the general term for the act of killing someone.
  • A homicide can be described more specifically by using the terms murder, manslaughter, or negligent homicide.
  • A justifiable homicide is the term for an excusable killing under the law; this includes acts of self-defense and government executions.

Homicide is the legal definition of killing someone. Murder and homicide are sometimes used interchangeably. However, criminal laws use the terms to mean specific things.

There are two main categories of criminal homicide: Murder and manslaughter. Murder is a planned homicide. Manslaughter is an unplanned homicide. Negligent homicide can also be a crime. This is when your negligence causes the death of someone else, for example, by selling them drugs, then they overdose.

The definition of homicide can depend on state law. For more information about homicide charges in your state, talk to a local criminal defense lawyer.

Understanding the Term Homicide

The term homicide comes from the Latin word homicidium. In Latin, cide means killing, while homo means man. Homicide, therefore, translates as “killing a man.”

Homicide is a catchall term for all killings. Law enforcement investigations of killings are homicide cases. Police officers and prosecutors must determine whether they believe the killing of another human being was intentional, unplanned, or an accident.

Each state has its own classification system for homicides, although the general principles are the same. Planned homicides that are premeditated bring the severest penalties, including potentially capital punishment. Murder with “malice aforethought” is usually charged as first-degree murder. Depending on the state, first-degree murder can carry the death penalty.

Homicides that are unplanned face less severe (although still significant) penalties. This is known as heat of passion murder. If the homicide was an accident but occurred while doing something illegal, it is involuntary manslaughter. If a business owner attempts to burn down their building for insurance money but ends up killing someone by accident, the owner could face involuntary manslaughter charges.

There are still other forms of homicide. Some states categorize killing in the heat of the moment as second-degree murder. Others label that type of homicide as voluntary manslaughter.

Not all homicides are criminal. In a justifiable homicide, the person committing the homicide may have acted in self-defense. Government executions are also considered justifiable homicides.

What Is Felony Murder?

Felony murder is a criminal charge where committing a felony crime that results in murder is like premeditated murder. This is for serious felony violent crimes, including armed robbery or burglary. If anyone dies in the commission of a serious felony offense, they can face murder charges. Even if your co-conspirator shoots someone during a bank robbery, you can be charged with felony murder.

Accidental Homicide

Like a justifiable homicide, an accidental homicide is not an unlawful killing. In an accidental homicide, there is no intentional killing and no other criminal behavior at all. However, the family of the deceased person may still be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit to get compensation. One example is medical malpractice. There is no crime, but the family of the victim can still sue for wrongful death.

Negligent Homicide

Negligent homicide occurs when a person acts with such recklessness that they cause the death of another by acting with unjustifiable risk. This is also known as criminal negligence. Negligent homicide is different from accidental homicide, which does not involve criminal behavior.

For example, say you are driving down the road, obeying all traffic laws, and hit and kill a bicyclist through no fault of your own. This is an accidental homicide. If, however, you were driving drunk, it could be involuntary manslaughter or vehicular manslaughter. Getting behind the wheel when drunk (DUI) is both criminal and inherently risky.

Are There Defenses to Homicide Charges?

Committing homicide does not necessarily mean you will be convicted of a crime. Killing someone is always a homicide. But when killing is necessary to save your own life or the life of someone else, it can be excusable. If the defendant’s actions were within the scope of the state’s self-defense laws, it is a justifiable homicide. This is an affirmative defense.

Talk to your criminal defense attorney about other legal defenses. If you are charged with the killing of another person, contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer for legal advice.

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