Types of Homicide

Types of Homicide

When you stand accused of causing another person’s death in California, you will face homicide charges. However, not all homicide cases are alike, so it’s essential to have experienced representation to understand the unique details of your case and defend it, based on the legal distinctions between various types of crimes.

Manslaughter vs. Murder

Homicide charges fall into two categories – manslaughter and murder. The notable distinction between these crimes is their severity.

  • Manslaughter is a non-premeditated killing of another person, and is typically a much less serious crime than murder. For example, if you accidentally run over a cyclist while driving, you didn’t get behind the wheel with the intent of killing another person, but you’ll still face vehicular manslaughter charges.
  • Murder differs from manslaughter in that it involves the specific intent to take someone else’s life – according to California Penal Code Section 187, “with malice aforethought.” Due to its distinction as a crime that involves planning and resolve, murder carries harsher penalties, including the possibility of life in prison without parole.

Voluntary vs. Involuntary Manslaughter

Even killings that lack malicious forethought can still be purposeful. An example of voluntary manslaughter would be when events provoke someone to kill a person. For instance, if a woman discovers her husband in the act of cheating on her and kills his lover in the heat of the moment, she could face a voluntary manslaughter charge instead of a murder, since she acted rashly without taking time to plan her decision.

Under California law, deaths caused by negligence are involuntary manslaughter. For example, driving accidents often fall into this category. A driver who hits a pedestrian, cyclist or another motorist while distracted or driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs was acting irresponsibly, and their decisions unfortunately ended someone else’s life.

There is also a third category of homicide, called justifiable homicide, which is not a legal charge. Examples of justifiable homicides are when one person kills another in self-defense, or when a soldier kills an enemy combatant in a war zone. While the perpetrator is not criminally liable for the victim’s death, various civil penalties may still apply under specific circumstances.

First-Degree vs. Second-Degree Murder

As many people who enjoy watching TV police dramas know, there are different degrees of murder. First-degree murder is a crime characterized by vengefulness, deliberation and intent to harm. It carries the strictest punishments, including the death sentence or life without parole or probation.

For someone to be charged with first-degree murder, the prosecution must prove that the defendant planned and purposely carried out a killing. Taking time to prepare and execute this crime demonstrates a motive and a specific mindset.

California law broadly defines a second-degree murder as any homicide that does not fall under the category of first-degree murder. A second-degree murder would be any non-premeditated killing or a situation in which the original intent was only to cause severe bodily harm, but that resulted in someone’s death. Another type of second-degree murder occurs when a victim dies as a result of the perpetrator’s carelessness or disdain for the value of human life.

Orange County Homicide Attorney

When you’re facing manslaughter or murder charges, your freedom and your future are on the line. You deserve an expert defense attorney to represent your case and stand beside you in a court of law. With more than 35 years of experience in murder and manslaughter cases, Sal Ciulla is an award-winning criminal defense lawyer who has represented many of Southern California’s highest-profile cases. To learn more, reach out to us today.


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