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Homicide (Latin: homicidium, Latin: homo human being + Latin: caedere to cut, kill) refers to the act of a human killing another human.[1] A common form of homicide, for example, would be murder. It can also describe a person who has committed such an act, though this use is rare in modern English. Homicide is not always a punishable act under the criminal law, and is different than a murder from such formal legal point of view.


Non-criminal homicide

Homicides do not always involve a crime. Sometimes the law allows homicide by allowing certain defenses to criminal charges. One of the most recognized is self defense, which provides that a person is entitled to commit homicide to protect his or her own life from a deadly attack. For example, if a police officer confronts a suspect armed with a dangerous or deadly weapon, the officer may use force to stop the suspect. If this force ends up killing the suspect it is still considered a homicide, which in this case, is not illegal under Tennessee v. Garner.

Defenses to homicide include:

  • Automatism—The defense of automatism holds that one who is unconscious or unaware of their behavior, for instance, someone walking in their sleep, does not have the capacity to commit a crime.
  • Self-defense and defense of others—Complete defenses. For example of a very popular case on the subject read People v. Goetz.
  • Defense of dwelling/habitation—Limited to when an invader will commit a felony or otherwise hurt someone inside the home, but in some few jurisdictions, even applies to within a person's car.
  • Prevention of a crime—Permitted for "dangerous" felonies.[2]
  • Privilege of public authority — A person who has public authority to commit an act is not criminally liable.[3]
  • Insanity defense— There are several forms of tests, differs by state, the two most popular being the M'Naghten Rules and the Model Penal Code test.[4]
  • Defense of infancy[7]—Children under the age of 7 are conclusively not guilty of homicide, and children under the age of 14 are presumed - but rebuttably so - to be innocent
  • Mistake of fact—This defense asserts that a mistake of fact will disprove a criminal charge if it is honestly entertained, based upon reasonable grounds and is of such a nature that the conduct would have been lawful had the facts been as they were supposed to be.
  • Involuntary intoxication—If a person is drugged, and cannot control their behavior due to the properties of the drugging agent, this operates as a defense for the same reason as automatism, the person cannot be held responsible.
  • War—State v. Gut, 13 Minn. 341 (1868), a soldier killing an enemy is accepted, but a soldier killing a prisoner of war is still murder.
  • Duress—The defense of duress (and thus necessity) cannot apply to an intentional homicide.

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