Homicide Law and Legal Definition

Homicide is the killing of a human being due to the act or failure to act of another. Criminal homicides include murder and manslaughter. Non-criminal homicides include killing in self-defense, a misadventure like a hunting accident or automobile wreck without a violation of law like reckless driving, or legal (government) execution. Suicide is a homicide, but is rarely prosecuted. Assisting or attempting suicide can be a crime.

Homicides can be classified as follows;

  1. Justifiable Homicides -- these are "no fault" homicides. They ordinarily involve the death of someone under circumstances of necessity or duty (commanded or authorized by law). Examples would be self-defense, capital punishment, and police shootings.
  2. Excusable Homicides -- these are misadventures, accidents, or acts of insanity. They ordinarily involve acts of civil fault, error, or omission.
  3. 1st Degree Criminal Homicide (Murder) -- These are acts involving the death of someone in "cold-blood" or by "lying in wait". Also, the crime of felony murder (someone dies during commission of a felony) is automatically 1st degree homicide.
  4. 2nd Degree Criminal Homicide (Murder) -- These are acts involving the death of someone in the "heat of passion". Heat of passion murder doesn't require provocation, but it still requires proof of intent.
  5. Voluntary Manslaughter -- Manslaughter, in general, involves acts involving the death of someone without premeditation, but acting in "sudden passion".
  6. Involuntary Manslaughter -- This is the crime of Criminal Negligence, sometimes called misdemeanor manslaughter. It typically involves the careless use of firearms, explosives, animals, medicine, trains, planes, ships, and automobiles. Many states have created out a separate category called Vehicular Manslaughter for cases involving automobiles.