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Homicide Definition (What It Means And Why It’s Important)

Looking for the Homicide Definition?

How do you legally define homicide?

What are the essential elements you should know!

Keep reading as we have gathered exactly the information that you need!

Let’s see what homicide means and why it’s important to know!

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Let’s get started!

Understanding The Homicide Definition

Homicide refers to the killing of a person by another person.

The definition of homicide is quite broad and can encompass both the criminal killing of a human being or even noncriminal acts resulting in the death of another.

For example, when the homicide is illegal, the will be qualified as murder.

On the other hand, if the homicide was “lawful” or “noncriminal”, then the act may be qualified as self-defense or the circumstances justify excusing the perpetrator (like to prevent another person to be killed).

The criminal laws will generally provide for specific statutory guidelines and requirements helping the criminal courts and prosecutors classify an act as criminal homicide or noncriminal homicide.

Homicide Meaning

Simply put, “homicide” refers to an act qualified under criminal laws where a person kills another person.

As you can see, the definition of homicide paints a broad brush relating to any type of incident where a person is killed (either lawfully or unlawfully).

When a person unlawfully kills another, you have murder (this is criminal homicide).

However, when a person may lawfully kill another, you will have homicide (this is noncriminal homicide).

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the term homicide in common English as:

“A person who kills another” or “A killing of one human being by another”

Murder Meaning

You can say that murder is a homicide that is the “unlawful” killing of another human being.

In essence, murder is when a person kills deliberately kills another knowing that the person will lose his or her life.

When a person wants to harm another person so much so as to take their life away, you have an act qualified as murder under criminal laws.

In some states, a person acting with malice aforethought is a person who kills based on a desire to do evil.

Murder will can result in various types of charges to the offender, such as:

  • First degree murder
  • Second degree murder

Manslaughter Meaning

Manslaughter is a homicide that is the unintentional killing of another human being.

In general, manslaughter is a less severe crime compared to first and second degree murder.

When a person kills another person in the heat of the moment, in the heat of the passion, on the fly, without any premeditation or prior planning, you have voluntary manslaughter.

In other words, voluntary manslaughter is when the perpetrator had the intention to kill another but that intention was not planned ahead of time, the decision to kill was in the spur of the moment.

You then have involuntary manslaughter.

Involuntary manslaughter is when a person’s actions, recklessness, or disregard for another human being’s life results in the death of another.

In reality, a person dies not because the offender had a true intention to kill the person or had planned the killing.

In cases when a person is killed in a car crash due to a driver’s gross negligence or recklessness, the incident can be qualified as vehicular manslaughter.

Homicide Legal Definition

According to Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute, homicide is defined as follows:

Homicide is when one human being causes the death of another.

In essence, the definition of homicide can be summed up as:

  • The killing
  • Of a human being
  • Caused
  • By another human being

As you can see, this definition does not specifically relate to murder as homicide does not necessarily equate to murder.

When a person kills another person without having the intention to kill another or as a result of self-defense measures, you may have a human being killed without the incident being qualified as murder.

Homicide can be divided into two categories: noncriminal homicide (also referred to as justifiable homicide or legal homicide) or criminal homicide (also referred to as murder or manslaughter).

Let’s look at each of these two types of homicide.

Noncriminal Homicide

What are the instances when homicide can be legally excused?

In essence, not all acts of homicide are considered a crime per se.

Depending on the jurisdiction, the criminal laws can define instances when a person may kill another but be legally excused and not get punished for it.

For example, you have “justifiable homicide” or “noncriminal” homicide when:

  • A person kills another to save his or her own life (this is based on the right of self-defense)
  • When a person kills another but was unable to comprehend the consequences of the conduct due to mental incapacity
  • In some cases, children may not be held accountable for killing another if they did not reach the age of criminal responsibility 
  • Killing that takes place by law enforcement officers to save the public or their own life or on the battlefield 

Criminal Homicide

When the act of killing someone (homicide) is illegal or does not fit into the legally excusable categories, then you have a crime for which the offender will be punished.

Typically, the illegal homicide will result in a murder charge such as first degree or second degree charges.

The common feature of criminal homicide is that the person had the planned to kill his or her victim and carried out the act (first degree murder) or did not have premeditation but still, in the heat of the moment, formulated the intention to kill another (second degree murder).

Criminal Homicide Definition Takeaways 

So there you have it folks!

What is the definition of homicide?

How do you define homicide?

The definition of homicide can be put as follow: the killing of a human being by another.

Homicides refer to acts that result in the killing of a person by another either legally or illegally.

A person may die because a person had a willful intention of killing his or her victim (this is an illegal homicide also called murder).

A person may die by accident, through reckless acts, negligence conduct, or other reasons, this will fall into the category of manslaughter that could be voluntary or involuntary.

You can also have situations when a person dies but due to legal actions like the killing of a person to prevent a mass shooting, killing in war, killing for self-defense, death in a car accident without violation of the law or negligence, suicide, assisted suicide, good faith accident with a firearm or other.

Depending on the local laws and the society’s tolerance, the different types of homicidal acts can be treated differently and punished differently.

In the end, not all homicides are crimes.

What you should takeaway is that all human killing can be qualified as a homicide ranging from murder crimes, voluntary or involuntary manslaughter, acts of self-defense, or others.

I hope this article provided you with an overall understanding of what homicide means and its definition.

Let’s look at a summary of our findings.

Legal Definition of Homicide

  • The term “homicide” refers to the killing of a human being by another person
  • The definition of homicide is broad as it includes murder, manslaughter, or other noncriminal actions that lead to the death of a person
  • Non-criminal actions leading to death can include self-defense, accidents with firearms, death in car accidents, killing by law enforcement to protect others etc
  • Criminal homicide refers to murder either in the first degree or in the second degree when there was a criminal intention and killing
1st degree murders
2nd degree murders
3rd degree murders
Actus reus 
Assault vs battery 
Assisted suicide 
Capital punishment 
Death penalty 
Degrees of murders 
Double homicide 
Felony murder 
Homicide definition 
Homicide vs murders
Involuntary manslaughter 
Legal consultation 
Life sentence 
Manslaughter definition 
Mens rea
Mercy killing 
Murder definition 
Murder vs manslaughter 
What is 1st, 2nd and 3rd degree murders
What is manslaughter
Civil liability 
Consensual homicide
Contract killing 
Crime of passion 
Defense lawyer 
Depraved indifference 
Depraved-heart murder 
Felony murder rule
Honor killing
Human cannibalism
Internet homicide 
Jail vs prison 
Lonely hearts killer
Lust murder
Mail tampering 
Malice aforethought 
Mass shooting
Misdemeanor murder
Mistake of fact 
Proxy murder
Serial killer 
Spree killer 
Thrill killing 
Wrongful death claims

Editorial Staffhttps://lawyer.zone
Hello Nation! I'm a lawyer and passionate about law. I've practiced law in a boutique law firm, worked in a multi-national organization and as in-house counsel. I've been around the block! On this blog, I provide you with golden nuggets of information about lawyers, attorneys, the law and legal theories. Enjoy!


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