Many individuals think that homicide and murder are the same thing since both involve the death of one person at the hands of another. Legally, though, they are very different. The term homicide implies that one person is responsible for another’s death. Sometimes, such as in self-defense cases, it may not even be illegal. These cases are often called justifiable, excusable or non-criminal homicide. The primary factors in how one will be charged are the intent and the circumstances.
Homicide by degrees of severity
Murder is always illegal homicide. It implies, and the prosecutor will attempt to prove, that the defendant not only committed the crime, but acted with malicious intent or criminal negligence (guilty act, guilty mind). Homicide is further classified by degree:
First-degree murder: This form of homicide is pre-meditated or committed with “cruelty aforethought.” In some states, even unintentional murder may be charged as first-degree if it occurred during the commission of another crime such as rape, kidnapping, robbery, or arson.
Second-degree murder: Is caused by dangerous acts or conduct.
Manslaughter: Can be voluntary or involuntary homicide.
- Voluntary manslaughter is the intentional, yet spontaneous killing of another. For example, killing someone in the “heat of passion.” Note that you can not just claim passion in the situation leading up to the death, but rather one that would emotionally or mentally unhinge a reasonable person. Some states use the term third-degree murder.
- Involuntary manslaughter is sometimes called criminally negligent homicide. It is usually the charge if you unintentionally kill someone through an unlawful or reckless act. For example, causing a fatal car accident while driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol is criminally negligent homicide. You can also be charged with involuntary manslaughter if someone dies because of your high level of negligence in performing a lawful act.
The consequences of a conviction are significant
Murder draws the most serious punishment, because society regards it as its most terrible crime. A conviction may result in a lengthy prison sentence. If you do receive less than a life sentence, when you get out you may find it very difficult to get a job or find a place to live. You will also have lost some of the basic rights of citizenship, such as the right to vote and own a gun.
Skilled criminal defense is essential
For any homicide charge, it is smart to retain a criminal defense attorney. But it is absolutely essential when when one is facing a murder charge.
You need a criminal defense attorney who will:
- Make an effective argument for dropping or reducing the charges
- Investigate every aspect of the case
- Challenge the prosecutor’s evidence
- Negotiate for a plea if appropriate
- Peititon for bail
- Strategize jury selection
- Be prepared to fight vigorously in court
And, if you are found guilty:
- Present mitigating factors that might reduce your sentence
- Appeal your case
- Represent you at parole hearings
If you’ve been charged with murder, contact our criminal defense attorneys for an immediate review of your case.