The crime of homicide is defined as the unlawful killing of another human being. Homicides, especially culpable homicides, are considered to be violent felonies and thus can result in very harsh punishments. Briefly, a felony is a criminal offense that can lead to the defendant having to pay very large fines, serving a prison sentence longer than one year, or both.
The charges that can be brought against someone for a homicide range from intentional killings, such as murder, to non-intentional killings, such as manslaughter. Both murder and manslaughter also happen to be the two most common types of homicide crimes.
Other examples of homicide crimes may include:
- Serial murders or killing;
- Infant deaths in connection with “shaken baby syndrome”; and
- Assisted suicide.
In addition, there are also different degrees of homicide, which are classified according to the laws of a particular state and the nature of the crime committed.
What are Some Differences Between the Levels of Homicide?
As mentioned above, the exact distinctions between the different types of homicide classifications will typically vary from state to state. In general, however, there are two primary categories of homicide: murder and manslaughter. These two categories then get further divided into two separate degrees for each, as demonstrated directly by the examples provided below.
- First-degree murder: First-degree murder is the intentional, malicious, premeditated, or deliberate killing of another individual. Murder committed during an inherently dangerous felony (e.g., armed robbery) may also be considered as first-degree murder.
- Second-degree murder: On the other hand, second-degree murder results in the death of another person, but lacks the premeditation and deliberation factors found under first-degree. This degree of murder also covers “accidental” killings where someone other than the intended target is killed instead.
- Finally, second-degree murder is often used as a catch-all term for murders that cannot be classified as manslaughter, but do not rise to the level necessary to classify it as a first-degree killing.
- Voluntary Manslaughter: This type of manslaughter occurs as the result of “passion”, or where an individual was provoked. In this case, passion does not mean anger, but instead refers to any extreme emotion that suspends a person’s judgment. Also, a defendant is said to be “provoked” when they are repeatedly confronted by some sort of physical assault and they “hit back” against the other aggressor in such a way that it causes the aggressor’s death.
- It is important to note that the level of provocation involved must be sufficient enough that a reasonable person of sound mind would have likely responded in the same or in a similar manner. Provocation also includes an imperfect self-defense (e.g., where the defendant uses more force than necessary or initiates the attack).
- Involuntary Manslaughter: Involuntary manslaughter is the killing of another individual by reckless or negligent conduct. Unlike voluntary manslaughter, the killing is not intentional. For example, at one time, many states had vehicular manslaughter categorized under this second kind of manslaughter, but most have since created a separate and third category that only deals with vehicular manslaughter crimes.
What are the Consequences of a Homicide Conviction?
As previously discussed, the legal consequences for committing a homicide can be extremely serious, especially if the charges result in a murder conviction (as opposed to the penalties for involuntary manslaughter).
The following is a list of potential punishments for homicide charges that lead to a murder conviction:
- Capital punishment (note that this punishment is only permitted for first-degree murder convictions);
- Imprisonment (anywhere from ten years to a life sentence);
- Loss of the right to possess a deadly weapon;
- Inability to obtain occupational licenses (e.g., medical license); and
- The defendant may also be subject to a civil suit for wrongful death.
There are also certain factors that, if present, can raise the degree of the underlying crime to a more serious one and thus can result in any of the above legal consequences. These factors include whether:
- There were mitigating or aggravating circumstances present;
- The defendant had any prior convictions (i.e., repeat offender) or if this was their first offense;
- The defendant is currently on probation or parole;
- If there is a certain amount of media attention focused on the case; and
- The type of weapon the defendant used to commit the homicide.
What If My Family Member was the Victim of a Homicide?
If you are the family member of a homicide victim and the case is currently being investigated or prosecuted, then you should consider speaking with an attorney about bringing a wrongful death suit against the person responsible for the homicide.
While money will never be able to replace your loved one, it can help cover some of the bills and expenses, as well as bring you a tiny bit of peace.
Alternatively, if you have been or believe that you might be accused of committing a homicide, then you should contact a criminal defense attorney immediately to learn more about your rights and whether you have any defenses available for your case.