A double homicide is the murder or unlawful death of two victims by one perpetrator. It is typically a description of a circumstance, instead of a formal legal term. A person accused of killing two people will typically be charged with two counts of homicide or murder, rather than with a single charge that combines both deaths.
Homicide is a legal term used to describe the death of one person at the hands of another. Murder is a type of homicide, but homicide may also be a result of negligence, self-defense, or other circumstances. Homicide is not always considered a criminal act and cannot always be prosecuted; there are circumstances in which it may be considered justifiable or excusable. Even double homicide may not always be considered criminal, such as in cases where the perpetrator was having his or her life sincerely threatened by two individuals and killed both out of self defense.
Double homicide, however, is quite frequently linked to murder, love triangles, and criminal intent. Film, television, and books often use double homicide as a plot device or means of increasing drama, but famous examples abound in real life as well. Double homicide court cases often generate considerable media attention because they are frequently considered crimes of passion, in part due to some cases that involve the death of a spouse or romantic partner and his or her purported lover at the hands of a jilted partner.
A double homicide may refer to two victims killed in one location, or two people killed as part of the same action or situation. If a person shoots his or her spouse, then drives over to a supposed lover's house and kills a second victim, this may be considered a double homicide even though the victims were in separate locations. It is important to remember that this generally results in two separate charges, though some regions may have stiffer minimum penalties for a person simultaneously charged with multiple murders.
Double homicide is often linked to murder-suicide situations, in which the perpetrator commits suicide after killing two victims. This may occur due to a realization of the severity of the act, or may be a decision to choose suicide over the possible chance of jail or execution. These unfortunate situations are cause of considerable grief to the families of the victims, as they are prevented from seeking legal justice against the perpetrator.
One interesting legal and ethical debate on the issue concerns how the murder of a pregnant woman can be charged. In a media-frenzied California murder case in 2004, Scott Peterson was found guilty of two murder charges: the first-degree murder of his wife, Laci, and the second-degree murder of their unborn son. The second charge remains an issue of great controversy among legal scholars, as it seems to add life status to fetuses, calling into question the legality of abortion laws.