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Homicide - Justifiable Or Excusable Homicide, Other Defenses, Euthanasia And Physician-assisted Suicide, Further Readings

person killing criminal murder

The killing of one human being by another human being.

Although the term homicide is sometimes used synonymously with murder, homicide is broader in scope than murder. Murder is a form of criminal homicide; other forms of homicide might not constitute criminal acts. These homicides are regarded as justified or excusable. For example, individuals may, in a necessary act of SELF-DEFENSE, kill a person who threatens them with death or serious injury, or they may be commanded or authorized by law to kill a person who is a member of an enemy force or who has committed a serious crime. Typically, the circumstances surrounding a killing determine whether it is criminal. The intent of the killer usually determines whether a criminal homicide is classified as murder or MANSLAUGHTER and at what degree.

English courts developed the body of COMMON LAW on which U.S. jurisdictions initially relied in developing their homicide statutes. Early English common law divided homicide into two broad categories: felonious and non-felonious. Historically, the deliberate and premeditated killing of a person by another person was a felonious homicide and was classified as murder. Non-felonious homicide included justifiable homicide and excusable homicide. Although justifiable homicide was considered a crime, the offender often received a pardon. Excusable homicide was not considered a crime.

Under the early common law, murder was a felony that was punishable by death. It was defined as the unlawful killing of a person with "malice aforethought," which was generally defined as a premeditated intent to kill. As U.S. courts and jurisdictions adopted the English common law and modified the various circumstances that constituted criminal homicide, various degrees of criminal homicide developed. Modern statutes generally divide criminal homicide into two broad categories: murder and manslaughter. Murder is usually further divided into the first degree, which typically involves a premeditated intent to kill, and the second degree, which typically does not involve a premeditated intent to kill. Manslaughter typically involves an unintentional killing that resulted from a person's criminal negligence or reckless disregard for human life.

All homicides require the killing of a living person. In most states, the killing of a viable fetus is generally not considered a homicide unless the fetus is first born alive. In some states, however, this distinction is disregarded and the killing of an unborn viable fetus is classified as homicide. In other states, statutes separately classify the killing of a fetus as the crime of feticide.

Generally, the law requires that the death of the person occur within a year and a day of the fatal injury. This requirement initially reflected a difficulty in determining whether an initial injury led to a person's death, or whether other events or circumstances intervened to cause the person's death. As FORENSIC SCIENCE has developed and the difficulty in determining cause of death has diminished, many states have modified or abrogated the year-and-a-day rule.

CROSS-REFERENCES

Death and Dying; Insanity Defense.

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