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Are you dying to know if it's homicide or murder?

The last time you watched a crime show or a movie involving the death of one person at the hands of another, chances are the characters used the words homicide and murder interchangeably. In reality, the definitions of the two words include important distinctions.

Where it's true that murder falls under the definition of homicide, a homicide isn't necessarily a murder. The killing of one human by another defines homicide. The definition of murder involves more complex issues and varying degrees, depending on the circumstances.

What makes a homicide a murder?

In short, a murder means that one person intentionally killed another. You may already know that a murder can be first-degree, second-degree or manslaughter. In general, the distinctions are as follows:

  • First-degree: These murders involve planning that could take place over a short time or over a long period. If you allegedly intended to kill someone and planned it ahead of time, you could face this charge.
  • Second-degree: No element of premeditation (planning) is required under this charge of murder. However, if you face this charge, the assumption is that you knew your actions would lead to death. You did something intentional to cause the other person's death.
  • Manslaughter: In opposition to first- and second-degree murder, manslaughter does not include the need for the killing to be intentional, only illegal. The killing often occurs due to reckless or negligent actions. For example, if a drunk driver causes an accident in which a person dies, he or she could face a charge of some form of manslaughter.

Manslaughter generally falls into one of three primary categories: voluntary, involuntary and vehicular.

When is a homicide not a murder?

Some homicides are "justified," and the death would not fall under the category of murder. For example, you can use lethal force to defend yourself (and perhaps others). If someone breaks into your home with the intent to do you harm, the law allows you to fight back with whatever means necessary. The death of the perpetrator would more than likely be justified if the evidence indicates that you were simply defending yourself, your family or your friends in your home.

If someone attempts to kill you, rape you or otherwise threaten your life with or without a weapon, and you believe your life is in imminent danger, any lethal force you use that leads to the death of the perpetrator may be justified whether you are at home or not. The circumstances surrounding the incident will often dictate whether you face charges for murder.

Legal help

In most cases, you could remain under suspicion of murder until an investigation reveals that a homicide was justified. If you had no other choice but to end someone's life in order to protect yourself, you should call 911 first. Thereafter, it may be to your benefit to make a second call to an attorney. The sooner that police and prosecutors receive sufficient evidence to prove you innocent of murder or manslaughter, the better.

If the circumstances should indicate that your actions do not fall within the definition of a justifiable homicide, you also need aggressive and knowledgeable representation right away. In either case, your future, or possibly your life, is at stake. Even if the charges ultimately get reduced or dismissed, your personal and professional lives may be tainted with the accusations forever.

Don't leave your future to chance. An Arizona criminal defense attorney can advise you of your legal rights, advocate on your behalf with officials and represent you in court. Make no mistake, murder and manslaughter charges come with serious penalties.

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