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What’s the difference between homicide and murder?

Latin derivation

Homicide is a generic term used to refer to any killing of a human being by another human being. The word homicide comes from a compound of the Latin words <homo> meaning “man” and <cidia> meaning “killing”.

Other words similar to homicide

We are familiar with other words such as suicide (which refers to the killing of the self or a self-inflicted death). We are also familiar with words like infanticide, which refers to the killing of a child or infant; or words such as fratricide, which refers to the killing of a brother or a sister; or words such as parricide which refers to the killing of a parent.

Unlawful, volitional or negligent killing

Homicides are necessarily unlawful, that is, there is a law that penalizes the unlawful killing of another human being. Homicides may be volitional, that is, the person who committed the homicide intended to kill the victim.

Homicides may also be negligent, that is, there was no intention to kill the victim, but the homicide was committed because the person accused failed to discharge a legal duty. One example is when a motorist runs a stop light and hits a pedestrian and the pedestrian died. This is an unintentional or a negligent homicide because there was a duty on the part of the motorist to stop at a red signal, but the motorist failed to stop at the red signal and caused the death of another.

A homicide may be justified such as when there is war or when a person kills another in self-defense. The justification or defense of “self-defense” presupposes that the person who had committed the homicide was attacked without him giving any provocation, and to repel the attack or to save his or her own life or the life of a relative or a stranger, the person used force and committed the homicide. One example is when a robber invades a home, brandishes a deadly weapon and tries to hurt the residents of the house and the homeowner overpowers the robber and shoots the robber. This is a homicide using self-defense.

Homicide is different from murder

Murder is a totally different crime from homicide. In murder, just as in homicide, the killing is unjustified, that is, it is unlawful. While both homicide and murder result in the death or killing of another human being, in murder there is a requirement of “malice aforethought”. The person accused of murder must have had a state of mind that shows an intent to kill the other and the will to commit overt acts to produce the death of another.

What is “malice aforethought”?

Malice aforethought is a state of mind. It is a specific criminal intent to commit an act or series of acts that would produce an unlawful killing. It is a premeditated intent to cause someone’s death. It may be express malice, such as when a person states “I’m going to kill you.” But it may be implied such as when the accused person bought a gun, bought bullets, waited in the dark and sprang a surprise attack on the victim and shot the victim in areas of the body that will bring about death. These are actions that will bring about death as a direct, natural and probable consequence.

There is said to be malice aforethought when the accused knew that the consequences of his or her actions will endanger human life and still, the accused acted deliberately with a conscious disregard for human life. It is the element of the crime of murder that shows high moral culpability.