To begin with, not all homicides are crimes. Homicides include all killings of humans. Many homicides, such as murder and manslaughter, violate the criminal law. Others, like murder in self-defense, are not criminal. Illegal homicides range from manslaughter to murder, with several degrees each representing the gravity of the crime.


First degree murder is the most serious criminal homicide. Generally, first degree murder is both intentional and planned. Premeditated can mean everything from a long-term plan to kill the victim to a shorter-term plan. The intent of the accused murderer need not be focused on the actual victim. If someone intended to kill a victim but accidentally kills someone else, the murder is still intentional and planned, which means a charge of first degree murder. Here is more information about your state’s first degree murder laws.

When there is a lack of premeditation but the killer intends to kill, for example, in homicides commonly described as occurring “in the fire of passion”, homicide can lay charges of second degree murder or possibly charges of intentional homicide, depending on the state.


Manslaughter generally means illegal murder that does not correspond to murder. This means that the perpetrator did not intend to kill anyone, but still killed the victim through criminally negligent or reckless behavior. A common example is a DUI accident that kills someone. Someone who is driving while intoxicated behaves in a criminally irresponsible manner, even if he did not intend to kill anyone.

Voluntary manslaughter generally means that the offender did not intend to kill before, for example when the homicide occurs “in the heat of the passion” and without foresight. According to the state, this crime may fall under a variant of the murder charges, instead of manslaughter.

Legal Homicides

Some homicides are not illegal. Criminal law provides exceptions for certain murders that would otherwise fall under criminal law against manslaughter or murder. These are referred to as “justified homicide”. A prime example is murder in self-defense or the defense of someone else. Such homicide is deemed justified if the situation requires self-defense and state law permits lethal force in this type of situation. Most state laws allow justified homicide to defend oneself or defend against a credible threat of serious crimes such as rape, armed robbery and murder.

Related Wrongful Death Claims

No matter where a homicide is on the criminal spectrum, it can also result in civil prosecution for wrongful death. In the event of homicide, the family of the victim can sue the alleged offender to claim damages from the person who caused the death of his loved one. Although wrongful death suits offer monetary results rather than criminal sanctions, they also have a much lower level of evidence than the criminal standard of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

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