What Are the Different Types of Criminal Homicide?

Homicide is the taking of a human life. Every state in the US has its own unique classifications of homicide, but these classifications generally fall into three general categories. Those general categories are murder, manslaughter, and justifiable homicide.
If you or someone you know has been involved with a homicide, it is a very serious matter and you should contact a competent, experienced attorney.


Murder is typically broken down further into several sub-categories. The most common are first and second degree murder. First degree murder is the most serious of all homicide charges. It applies to situations in which someone is accused of killing another person after having planned to kill the victim. It requires malice (evil intent) and forethought (planning). These cases are usually considered among the most heinous crimes and as such, the most severe punishments are usually reserved .

Second degree murder, on the other hand, usually applies to cases in which someone may have intended to kill another, but did not have time to plan it (a crime of passion). For example, a husband that flies into a rage and kills his wife when he comes home to discover her in bed with another man could be a second degree murder. Some states also apply the label of second degree murder to situations in which someone’s actions were so wanton and reckless that the death of another person was readily foreseeable, even if killing someone was not the intention, such as driving at speed into a crowd of people. Second degree murder is also very serious, and in most situations the defendant will face life in prison or a similarly harsh sentence, though the death sentence is not an option.


The charge of manslaughter is reserved for instances where the accused did not plan the crime nor did he or she intend for the victim to die because of his or her actions. Manslaughter charges usually arise out of accidental circumstances where a person died because of the event. For example, a doctor who prescribes drugs that can have a lethal interaction for a patient, a parent that leaves a baby in a hot car, or a driver who causes a fatal car accident. Sentences for those convicted of manslaughter vary widely depending on state laws and the circumstances of the event in question, but are usually somewhat less than second degree murder.

Justifiable Homicide

Justifiable homicide is reserved for situations where an individual killed another in self-defense or similar circumstances. This really is not a legal charge, but rather a classification that police can use in an event where an individual died but no crime was committed, or as a defense in a homicide prosecution. Because the killing was justifiable, the person who committed the killing will not be held criminally liable for the death, though civil penalties may still apply under certain circumstances.

Other Homicides

Some states have developed other forms of homicide crimes. For example, one modern trend is the felony murder charge. In felony murder, a person has died while the defendant was participating in the commission of a crime, but the defendant did not actually cause the death. For example, if several people storm into a convenience store for an armed robbery and one of them shoots the cashier, killing him, the other two can be charged with felony murder even though they did not actually kill anyone. States’ laws are constantly evolving and diverging, so other forms of homicide may exist or may come into existence in the future.

As noted, homicide is always serious. If you or someone you know has been involved with a homicide contact an attorney for assistance in dealing with this matter as soon as possible.