FREE CONSULTATION • CALL US 24 / 7 212-994-7777


What is Homicide?

The crime of homicide is defined as the unlawful killing of another human being. Homicides, especially culpable homicides, are considered to be violent felonies and thus can result in very harsh punishments. Briefly, a felony is a criminal offense that can lead to the defendant having to pay very large fines, serving a prison sentence longer than one year, or both.

The charges that can be brought against someone for a homicide range from intentional killings, such as murder, to non-intentional killings, such as manslaughter. Both murder and manslaughter also happen to be the two most common types of homicide crimes.

Other examples of homicide crimes may include:

  • Serial murders or killing;
  • Infant deaths in connection with “shaken baby syndrome”; and
  • Assisted suicide

In addition, there are also different degrees of homicide, which are classified according to the laws of a particular state and the nature of the crime committed.

What are Some Differences Between the Levels of Homicide?

As mentioned above, the exact distinctions between the different types of homicide classifications will typically vary from state to state. In general, however, there are two primary categories of homicide: murder and manslaughter. These two categories then get further divided into two separate degrees for each, as demonstrated directly by the examples provided below.


  • First-degree murder: First-degree murder is the intentional, malicious, premeditated, or deliberate killing of another individual. Murder committed during an inherently dangerous felony (e.g., armed robbery) may also be considered as first-degree murder.
  • Second-degree murder: On the other hand, second-degree murder results in the death of another person, but lacks the premeditation and deliberation factors found under first-degree. This degree of murder also covers “accidental” killings where someone other than the intended target is killed instead.
    • Finally, second-degree murder is often used as a catch-all term for murders that cannot be classified as manslaughter, but do not rise to the level necessary to classify it as a first-degree killing.


  • Voluntary Manslaughter: This type of manslaughter occurs as the result of “passion”, or where an individual was provoked. In this case, passion does not mean anger, but instead refers to any extreme emotion that suspends a person's judgment. Also, a defendant is said to be “provoked” when they are repeatedly confronted by some sort of physical assault and they “hit back” against the other aggressor in such a way that it causes the aggressor's death.
    • It is important to note that the level of provocation involved must be sufficient enough that a reasonable person of sound mind would have likely responded in the same or in a similar manner. Provocation also includes an imperfect self-defense (e.g., where the defendant uses more force than necessary or initiates the attack).
  • Involuntary Manslaughter: Involuntary manslaughter is the killing of another individual by reckless or negligent conduct. Unlike voluntary manslaughter, the killing is not intentional. For example, at one time, many states had vehicular manslaughter categorized under this second kind of manslaughter, but most have since created a separate and third category that only deals with vehicular manslaughter crimes.

What are the Consequences of a Homicide Conviction?

As previously discussed, the legal consequences for committing a homicide can be extremely serious, especially if the charges result in a murder conviction (as opposed to the penalties for involuntary manslaughter).

The following is a list of potential punishments for homicide charges that lead to a murder conviction:

  • Capital punishment (note that this punishment is only permitted for first-degree murder convictions);
  • Imprisonment (anywhere from ten years to a life sentence);
  • Loss of the right to possess a deadly weapon;
  • Inability to obtain occupational licenses (e.g., medical license); and
  • The defendant may also be subject to a civil suit for wrongful death.

There are also certain factors that, if present, can raise the degree of the underlying crime to a more serious one and thus can result in any of the above legal consequences. These factors include whether:

  • There were mitigating or aggravating circumstances present;
  • The defendant had any prior convictions (i.e., repeat offender) or if this was their first offense;
  • The defendant is currently on probation or parole;
  • If there is a certain amount of media attention focused on the case; and
  • The type of weapon the defendant used to commit the homicide.

How Do Homicide Defenses Work?

In a case brought against a defendant for homicide charges, the primary goal of using a defense may not always be to completely remove the charges. Instead, defenses are often cited against a homicide charge for the purpose of reducing a more serious degree of homicide to a less serious offense.

An example of this is when a defense is used to reduce the defendant's charges from first-degree murder to involuntary manslaughter.

In order to be found guilty of homicide, the prosecution must prove that the defendant acted with the requisite mental state. For instance, in a case against a defendant for first-degree murder charges, the prosecution or government must prove that the defendant acted with intention and premeditated the act.

Thus, it is often the case that many defenses to homicide are based on a lack of the required mental state.

What are Some Different Types of Homicide Defenses?

There are several types of defenses available to defendants charged with homicide. These include some of the following defenses:

Justifiable Homicide: Justifiable homicides are those offenses which are excused by the law. A justifiable homicide defense is typically a complete defense against the charge of homicide. This means that the defense, if proven, will excuse the defendant from receiving a punishment or sentence for committing the crime of homicide.

Some types of defenses listed under the general category of a justifiable homicide defense include:

  • Perfect Self-Defense: It may be a defense to a charge for homicide if the defendant acted out of the honest and reasonable belief that the homicide was necessary for self-defense. The defendant will usually be required to prove that they did not instigate the violence, and that they used an equal amount of force in responding to the aggressor.
    • It may also be a perfect self-defense in situations where the defendant was assisting in a suicide and abiding by the death with dignity statute in that state. It is important to note that only four states permit death with dignity conduct.
  • Imperfect Self-Defense: If a defendant honestly believed that self-defense was a necessity, but a reasonable person would think otherwise, then the defendant could still be let off by using an imperfect self-defense. The main difference between perfect self-defense and imperfect self-defense is that imperfect self-defense does not have the reasonable belief requirement.
  • Defense of Property: Death or severe bodily injury against another is usually not permitted as a defense to protecting property. However, there are some instances where it may be acceptable if the defendant can prove that the intruder or trespasser threatened their life as the owner of the property.
  • Duress and/or Necessity: Although it is extremely rare, it may be possible to get a sentence reduced if the defendant can show that another person forced them to commit the killing. This defense is not available for murder charges and depending on the state laws and circumstances of the case, it may only enable the defendant to have their sentence reduced, not removed.
  • Crime Prevention: If a defendant committed a killing in order to prevent another crime, it may be a defense if it can be proven that they were reasonable in their intervention. The standards will differ depending on whether the defendant is law enforcement or a civilian.

Inability to Intentionally Kill: If the defendant is unable to understand that they have a duty not to take a life and/or the defendant is unable to act on that duty, then they may be able to use the defense that they are unable to intentionally kill.

These kinds of defenses will not excuse the homicide, but a successful defense will reduce the homicide charge; most likely to a voluntary or involuntary manslaughter charge. As such, prison time will still be given, but it will be lessened based on the circumstances. If the defendant is proven insane, then the defendant will be sent to a mental institution instead.

  • Insanity: Criminal laws provide various defenses under the category of insanity. It generally must be proven that the defendant was not mentally sound at the time of the act, and also that they lacked the required mental state for homicide. Records will indicate that the defendant claimed an insanity defense, which could have consequences in other areas of the defendant's life.
  • Intoxication: This type of defense is usually used to reduce a murder charge to a less serious charge. Intoxication can sometimes have the effect of rendering a person unable to form the required mental state for homicide. However, a voluntary intoxication has much less persuasion in court because it is assumed that the defendant should know when to stop drinking or when their intoxicated state begins to become excessive.
  • Diminished Capacity: Diminished capacity, also known as provocation, is best described as a state of “temporary insanity” that occurs when the defendant is in an extremely stressful situation. The stress must not be voluntarily brought on by the defendant and it must be found that a reasonable person would also be shocked under the circumstances.
    • For example, if the defendant permanently leaves their home country to move-in with their spouse, but discovers that their spouse has been continuously cheating on them only a few days after they arrive.
  • Unconsciousness: A defendant who is found to have been unconscious when the crime was performed is unable to do the act, thereby negating the homicide charge.

Reasonable Mistake: In order to prove the required mental state to kill, the defendant must have had the knowledge that the killing was illegal and unjustified. A reasonable mistake means that the defendant lacks such knowledge, and as a result, also lacks the necessary mental state.

  • Mistake of Fact: The mistake of fact must serve to negate the required mental state for the homicide charges. Also, the defendant's conduct must have been lawful had the mistaken facts been true. The mistake of fact for homicide charges is when the defendant mistakenly believed that the defendant's life was at stake, which furthers a defense of imperfect self-defense. A mistake regarding the law, however, is typically not a defense.
  • Entrapment: A defense called entrapment may be available when a law enforcement agent or officer encourages, induces, or solicits a person to commit a homicide which they would not otherwise have committed. Entrapment is one of the only exceptions to the rule that a mistake of law is not a defense to a criminal charge.

What If My Family Member was the Victim of a Homicide?

If you are the family member of a homicide victim and the case is currently being investigated or prosecuted, then you should consider speaking with an attorney about bringing a wrongful death suit against the person responsible for the homicide.

While money will never be able to replace your loved one, it can help cover some of the bills and expenses, as well as bring you a tiny bit of peace.

Alternatively, if you have been or believe that you might be accused of committing a homicide, then you should contact a criminal defense attorney immediately to learn more about your rights and whether you have any defenses available for your case.

Call our office today at 212-994-7777 or complete the convenient online contact form to set up a consultation.