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Understanding the Various Types of Homicide

By definition, homicide is the killing of another human being, whether in Tennessee or elsewhere. However, not all homicides are crimes. In addition, there are several categories of homicide crimes, the conviction of which carry greater or lesser penalties.

As FindLaw explains, the most serious homicide crime is first-degree murder. To convict someone of this crime, the prosecutor must prove that the defendant not only intentionally killed someone but also did so with a plan. The defendant could have developed that plan. This is also known as premeditation and can take place over either a long or short period of time. (S)he also could have killed someone else in addition to, or accidentally in lieu of his or her intended victim. In Tennessee, murder 1 is a crime punishable by death. The only exceptions are if the defendant is under 18 years of age or is mentally disabled.

Second-degree murder is also an intentional homicide but without the premeditation required for first-degree murder. Murder 2 often is called a crime of passion wherein the defendant killed someone on the spur of the moment based on witnessing or reacting to an event that aroused his or her passions.


In virtually all other situations, homicides are some form of manslaughter. The killing is still illegal, but its circumstances and the perpetrator’s state of mind fall short of those required for murder. For instance, the defendant could have accidentally killed someone. To convict someone of involuntary manslaughter, the prosecutor must prove that while (s)he did not intend to kill anyone, his or her actions were sufficiently negligent or reckless to cause that person’s death. The classic example of involuntary manslaughter is where a driver under the influence of alcohol or drugs causes a fatal wreck.

The criteria for voluntary manslaughter, on the other hand, are similar to the criteria for second-degree murder. Generally, the circumstances of the homicide dictate which charges the prosecutor will pursue.

Homicide defenses

FindLaw also sets forth the common defenses for any type of homicide, which includes the following:

  • The prosecutor charged the wrong person, i.e., someone else committed the crime.
  • The defendant committed justifiable homicide rather than murder or manslaughter.
  • The defendant acted in self-defense or in defense of another.
  • The defendant killed someone in a completely accidental way, without any recklessness or negligence on his or her own part.

Any form of homicide is serious, and defendants facing murder or manslaughter charges need the best defense(s) they can muster. As with any criminal charge, a homicide defendant has the right to an attorney and the right to remain silent and not incriminate himself or herself.