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Homicide (Latin: homicidium, Latin: homo human being + Latin: caedere to cut, kill) refers to the act of a human killing another human.[1] A common form of homicide, for example, would be murder. It can also describe a person who has committed such an act, though this use is rare in modern English. Homicide is not always a punishable act under the criminal law, and is different than a murder from such formal legal point of view.

Non-criminal homicide

Homicides do not always involve a crime. Sometimes the law allows homicide by allowing certain defenses to criminal charges. One of the most recognized is self defense, which provides that a person is entitled to commit homicide to protect his or her own life from a deadly attack. For example, if a police officer confronts a suspect armed with a dangerous or deadly weapon, the officer may use force to stop the suspect. If this force ends up killing the suspect it is still considered a homicide, which in this case, is not illegal under Tennessee v. Garner.

Defenses to homicide include:

  • Automatism—The defense of automatism holds that one who is unconscious or unaware of their behavior, for instance, someone walking in their sleep, does not have the capacity to commit a crime.
  • Self-defense and defense of others—Complete defenses. For example of a very popular case on the subject read People v. Goetz.
  • Defense of dwelling/habitation—Limited to when an invader will commit a felony or otherwise hurt someone inside the home, but in some few jurisdictions, even applies to within a person's car.
  • Prevention of a crime—Permitted for "dangerous" felonies.[2]
  • Privilege of public authority — A person who has public authority to commit an act is not criminally liable.[3]
  • Insanity defense— There are several forms of tests, differs by state, the two most popular being the M'Naghten Rules and the Model Penal Code test.[4]
  • Defense of infancy[7]—Children under the age of 7 are conclusively not guilty of homicide, and children under the age of 14 are presumed - but rebuttably so - to be innocent
  • Mistake of fact—This defense asserts that a mistake of fact will disprove a criminal charge if it is honestly entertained, based upon reasonable grounds and is of such a nature that the conduct would have been lawful had the facts been as they were supposed to be.
  • Involuntary intoxication—If a person is drugged, and cannot control their behavior due to the properties of the drugging agent, this operates as a defense for the same reason as automatism, the person cannot be held responsible.
  • War—State v. Gut, 13 Minn. 341 (1868), a soldier killing an enemy is accepted, but a soldier killing a prisoner of war is still murder.
  • Duress—The defense of duress (and thus necessity) cannot apply to an intentional homicide.

Criminal homicide

Criminal homicide takes several forms and is not always an intentional crime. What type of crime committed in a homicide is determined by the state of mind of the defendant and statutes defining the crime. Murder, for example, is an intentional crime the severity of which is classified by degrees in statute. In some jurisdictions, certain types of murders automatically qualify for capital punishment[8], but if the defendant in capital cases is mentally retarded in the United States they may not be executed, for reasons described in Atkins v. Virginia, similar to those utilizing an insanity defense.

Also, a homicide that occurs during the commission of a felony may give rise to the crime of felony murder, or otherwise known as the felony murder rule. This can depend on the case, court and jurisdiction. Briefly, the felony murder rule allows those who kill or "accidentally" kill during felonies to be prosecuted with first-degree murder, even if they did not intentionally or plan premeditatively to kill anyone. This can apply not only to innocent bystanders or targets to the crime who are killed, but co-felons who are killed as well.

Additionally under homicide there are voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. These differ from murder in that voluntary manslaughter requires provocation. Involuntary manslaughter is completely unintentional, such as a car or hunting accidents. Some jurisdictions define the crime as a separate name in automobile accidents, and the Model Penal Code, which is referred to as a legal text (in limited active use), also defines the crime of negligent homicide as a killing committed negligently.

Assisting or helping in someone's suicide is also a crime, as demonstrated in California Penal Code Sec. 401[9]. If aid progresses beyond mere passive assistance, it may be re-classified as murder.

State-sanctioned homicide

Homicides may also be non-criminal when conducted with the sanction of the state. The most obvious example is capital punishment, in which the state determines that a person should die. Homicides committed in action during war are usually not subject to criminal prosecution either. In addition, members of law enforcement entities are also allowed to commit justified homicides within certain parameters which, when met, do not usually result in prosecution; see deadly force.

See also


ar:قتل bg:Хомоцид de:Tötungsdelikt dsb:Zabijanstwo es:Homicidio fa:قتل fr:Homicide hr:Ubojstvo he:הריגה no:Drap ru:Гомицид fi:Henkirikos zh:杀人

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