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The words murder and homicide are often used interchangeably throughout the media and on television. A considerable difference in meaning, however, does exist between them. Homicide is any event when a human being dies because of another’s actions. Numerous variations and degrees of homicide exist, including those that are justifiable and criminally negligent. Murder is a type of homicide that involves both malicious intent and prior thought.
A crime occurs anytime a human being dies at the hands of another. The act of killing a person, whether deliberately or unintentionally, is known as homicide. This, in turn, is broken into different types and degrees as appropriate to the crime. Examples include vehicular homicide, homicide in self-defense, justifiable homicide and criminally negligent homicide. Each of these means something different in a court of law.
Manslaughter is a type of criminal homicide often defined as the unlawful killing of a human being without malice or premeditation, either implied or expressed. When a person injures or kills someone during the commission of a crime, it is usually considered implied malice. Expressed malice is a situation where the person communicates that he or she intends to commit a crime against someone else. Malice usually involves intentionally harming a person financially, physically, or psychologically.
Murder, unlike manslaughter, does require malice, either express or implied. Many legal definitions of murder consider malice to be the essence of this crime. Murder occurs when a person’s life is taken by another through deliberate and conscious acts. When a person commits murder, he or she also thought about it beforehand, even if for a brief second. This establishes malicious intent.
Intent is often identified in the actions of a person. If, for example, an individual deliberately fires a gun into a crowd of people, a court may see this as specific intent to kill anyone the bullets hit. When a person’s gun goes off while he or she is cleaning it and another individual is killed, the specific intent to kill is usually not involved. Both scenarios are examples of criminal homicide, but only the former is considered murder. All murders are homicides, but not all homicides are murders.
Murder and homicide are often categorized by degrees, which reflect the intent of the perpetrator and the gravity of the crime. First, second and third degrees are the classifications of murder. Not all jurisdictions use these classifications, with third degree murder being the least used.
Both premeditation and cruelty with afterthought exist in first degree murder. Some jurisdictions, such as the state of California, consider an unintentional killing that happened during a crime such as robbery, rape or arson to be first degree murder. Premeditated murder and homicide may receive the maximum allowable sentence after a conviction.
Second degree murder is similar to first but without premeditation. This may also encompass murder and homicide that occurred because the perpetrator exhibited dangerous behavior without the intent to kill. Second degree murder may be assigned to crimes of passion as well, an illustration of which is when one spouse kills the other. Third degree murder is also manslaughter, and this variation is used only in some cases. The statutes that define third degree murder are likely to vary considerably among jurisdictions.
There's a fine line between manslaughter and second degree murder. Some states do not even recognize second degree murder. It's either murder or manslaughter. It's really all about intent. If someone intends to kill another person and does so, it's murder.
Sometimes, the distinctions between murder charges are more for the sake of interesting television than anything else. TV charges don't usually reflect the criminal codes of most states.
Murder is harder to prosecute than manslaughter because intent is harder to prove. Capital murder is actually easier because it applies when someone kills a person during the commission of another felony, like killing the convenience store clerk during an armed robbery. Because the clerk was killed during the commission of a felony, the prosecutor doesn’t have to prove intent. Perhaps the robber didn’t intend to kill anyone, but the felony plus homicide equation equals a capital murder case.