Many people use the terms homicide, murder, and manslaughter interchangeably. They do so incorrectly. Each of these terms actually has a distinct legal meaning.
Homicide simply means that a person's death was caused by the actions of another person. The term homicide does not imply any ill intent or any wrongdoing.
Often, after a controversial incident, the media will ignite passions by making a big deal about the medical examiner ruling the death a homicide. These findings are in fact meaningless. Homicide applies equally to a cold blooded intentional killing, an unpreventable accident, or an indisputably justified self defense shooting.
Manslaughter is an unlawful killing. Manslaughter typically falls into two categories: wrongful actions taken directly against another person that were not calculated to kill and extremely reckless acts that caused the death of another.
The first category includes things like street fights. If a person is punching another, and that person suffers a fatal blow to the head whether by fist or falling to the ground, the person that caused the death will likely be charged with manslaughter.
The second category includes things like accidents that should have been prevented where a death was caused. Examples include a drunk driver weaving into oncoming traffic or a speeding driver striking a pedestrian. Gross safety violations, such as an airline's willful neglect of maintenance that leads to a crash or a construction company failing to secure equipment that fell on top of someone, can also lead to manslaughter charges.
Murder is the intentional killing of a person by another. As such, it is treated most severely under the law.
While intent can be shown by a defendant's previous threats or statements, there is no need for the prosecution to show any words or to try to read the defendant's mind. The mere use of a deadly weapon is almost always sufficient to show an intent to kill — saying "I was trying to shoot his arm" is not a defense.
When a deadly weapon isn't used, intent to kill can also be shown through things like the severity or duration of a beating.
Self Defense Exception
Actions taken in self defense have special definitions under the law. Self defense which is fully and legally justified is not a crime.
Actions with the intent to defend oneself when there was no legal ability to do so are classified as manslaughter. Actions only pretending to be in self defense, such as shooting a fleeing suspect in the back, are classified as murder.
To learn more, contact a local criminal defense attorney or visit a website like http://www.anggelisandgordon.com.