homicide | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction / Criminal Law

Homicide refers to the killing of one person by another person, whether intentional, unintentional, or justified.

When we talk about homicide, we’re speaking about a range of circumstances where one person kills another. This doesn’t always mean the killer had bad intentions. Sometimes, it can be an accident, or it can be done in self-defense. It’s crucial to understand that not all homicides are illegal.

Different Types of Homicide

There are various types of homicides. The difference lies in the intent behind the act and the circumstances surrounding it. These types include murder, manslaughter, and justifiable homicide.


Murder is a type of homicide where the killing is intentional and unlawful. In a murder case, the killer plans to cause the death of another person. For example, if a person plans to kill a rival, purchases a weapon for that purpose, and then carries out the act, that’s murder.


Manslaughter is a less severe form of homicide compared to murder. This type involves the killing of another person but without premeditation or malicious intent. There are two main types of manslaughter: voluntary and involuntary.

Voluntary manslaughter usually occurs in the heat of passion. This means a person didn’t plan to kill someone else, but a sudden event caused them to lose control and kill.

Involuntary manslaughter happens when someone kills another person accidentally. This usually happens because of reckless behavior or neglect. For instance, if a person drives recklessly and causes an accident that kills someone, that’s involuntary manslaughter.

Justifiable Homicide

Justifiable homicide is a type of killing that the law permits under certain circumstances. For example, if a person kills another person who is trying to kill them, the law may see it as self-defense. The key point here is that the person had to act to protect their own life or the lives of others. They had no other safe option but to cause the other person’s death.

The Legal Implications of Homicide

When it comes to the law, the type of homicide greatly affects the legal consequences. Murder is usually the most serious offense, with punishments ranging from long-term imprisonment to, in some jurisdictions, the death penalty. Manslaughter, while still serious, often carries less severe penalties, as the person didn’t intend to kill.

For justifiable homicides, the person may face no criminal charges at all, given they were defending themselves or others. However, it’s always on a case-by-case basis. The court will closely examine the circumstances surrounding the killing.

The Impact of Homicide on Society

This has a significant effect on society. It leaves families grieving, communities in fear and can lead to a cycle of violence. It also has substantial costs to the criminal justice system. For these reasons, preventing homicide is a key focus for law enforcement agencies.

In summary, homicide is the act of one person causing the death of another. It covers a range of situations, from murder to justifiable homicide. The consequences vary greatly depending on the intent and circumstances. It’s a serious act with profound impacts on individuals and communities.

[ Glossary ]

Last Modified: 05/22/2023

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