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Murder | Homicide

What Is the Legal Definition of Homicide?

Homicide is defined as the unlawful killing of another human being. The legal definition of homicide pertains to multiple types of acts including intentional crimes such as murder and involuntary acts such as manslaughter. Each classification of homicide crimes have different legal consequences. Furthermore, the types of defenses available for each homicide crime may differ, depending on the nature of the crime.
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How Do Homicide Defenses Work?

In a homicide charge, the purpose of a defense may not always be to completely exonerate the charges. Instead, it is fairly common for the defense to serve the purpose of reducing a more serious type of homicide to a lesser charge. An example of this is when the defense is used to reduce the defendant’s charges from first degree murder to involuntary manslaughter.

In order to be found guilty of homicide, the prosecution must prove the defendant acted with the required mental state. For example, in first degree murder, a criminal defense lawyer must prove that the defendant acted intentionally and premeditated the act. Many defenses to homicide are based on a lack of the required mental state.

What Are Some Different Types of Homicide Defenses?

Some of the more common defenses available for those charged with homicide include:

  • Justifiable Homicide: Homicides which are excused by the law. Justifiable homicide defenses are typically complete defenses, meaning that the defense, if proven, would allow the defendant to be released with no punishment or sentencing given.
  • Perfect Self-Defense: It is a defense to homicide if the defendant acted out of the honest and reasonable belief that the homicide was absolutely necessary for self-defense. The defendant will normally be required to prove that they did not initiate the violence, and that they used an equal amount of force in response to the aggressor. It is also a perfect self-defense if the defendant was assisting in a suicide and abiding by a death with dignity law in that state (now legal in California).
  • Imperfect Self-Defense: If the defendant believed that self-defense was necessary, but a reasonable person would believe otherwise, then the defendant might still be released on imperfect self-defense. The main difference between perfect and imperfect self-defense is that imperfect self-defense does not have a reasonable belief requirement.
  • Defense of Property: It usually must be proven that the intruder or trespasser had threatened the life of the property owner.
  • Duress/Necessity: If the defendant was forced to commit the killing, it may be a possible defense. For example, if they were held at gunpoint and forced to kill another person, it may relieve them of the charges. Not available for murder charges.
  • Crime Prevention: If the defendant committed a killing in the course of preventing a crime, it can be a defense if it is proven that they were reasonable in their intervention.