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Homicide: Behavioral Aspects - Sources Of Data On Homicide, Cross-national Patterns Of Criminal Homicide, Patterns Of Criminal Homicide In The United States

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationCrime and Criminal Law

Homicide is the killing of one human being by another. As a legal category, it can be criminal or noncriminal. Criminal homicides are generally considered first-degree murder, when one person causes the death of another with premeditation and intent, or second-degree murder, when the death is with malice and intent but is not premeditated. Voluntary manslaughter usually involves intent to inflict bodily injury without deliberate intent to kill; involuntary manslaughter is negligent or reckless killing without intent to harm. Noncriminal forms include excusable homicide, usually in self-defense, and what is called justifiable homicide, as when a convicted offender is executed by the state. The classification of any homicide as either criminal or noncriminal, or of a death as either a homicide, an accident, or a natural death, is not the same in all time periods or across all legal jurisdictions. What is considered a homicide death varies over time by the legal code of given jurisdictions and by the interpretations and practices of agencies responsible for reporting deaths. When cars were first introduced into the United States, for example, deaths resulting from them were classified by some coroners as homicides, although now they are generally labeled accidental unless caused by negligence. An abortion may be considered a criminal homicide or the exercise of a woman's reproductive choice. Homicide statistics, like those of many other crimes, reflect definitions and legal interpretations that vary over time and space. Agencies responsible for reporting deaths influence how a death is reported. Roger Lane describes, for example, that coroners in early twentieth-century America were paid to determine the cause of deaths on a feefor-service basis. The same fee was paid no matter how difficult the case, and in some cases, the fee was collected from the convicted offender. In difficult cases or those for which the coroner might not expect payment, as when a newborn was killed by an indigent woman, the cause of death might be reported as suffocation of the infant rather than as a homicide. Criminal homicide reflects the political processes that affect all definitions of crime.

MARGARET A. ZAHN

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