What Does the Law Say About Homicide?

Few topics in the law are as thoroughly tested as the laws of homicide. Rarely is so much at stake. And rarely is the law so directly connected to the spectrum of human emotion. Most every homicide case, however, turns upon the same central issues. For clarity, reference is made to the slayer and the deceased.

Let's begin with the concept of "the act or omission." To commit homicide one must have done something that caused the deceased's death, or failed to take action required by law to preserve the deceased's life. The cause of death, however, is not always obviously brought about by the slayer's conduct. Sometimes a deceased may have multiple injuries inflicted by multiple actors, or may have already had a mortal illness. Sometimes the deceased is never found. Many homicide cases never move past this initial inquiry. For example, a recent high-profile criminal case ended when the defendant died in custody and the doctors disagreed whether it was murder or suicide.

Another primary question in every homicide is, "What was the slayer's mental state or motive?" Was the slayer engaged in another motivating crime, such as robbery, rape, or break and enter? Was the slayer mad, jealous, or fearful? Perhaps the slayer was not even doing anything criminally wrong and the deceased's death was unanticipated. Motive, oddly enough, is not something that the prosecutor has to prove in a criminal case, but will always try to because the motive explains so much. In fact, proving the absence of a motive is often a winning defense tactic. Understanding motive usually means understanding the slayer's mental state. In every case, causing the death of another is deeply connected with human emotion. Understanding what caused the participants to act as they did is critical. In Virginia, there is a concept called malice, that bears some rough relation to motive. Malice means one is knowingly doing something they know is wrongful. Certain degrees of homicide require that the prosecution prove that the slayer acted with malice.

Discerning Intent Behind Homicide

Understanding the manner of death and motive helps one to begin to know what was in the slayer's mind. What was his intent? Was there ever an intent to kill? Sometimes a slayer's actions clearly demonstrate an intent to kill, such as when the deceased is stabbed several times. Other times, a deceased is killed by someone who did not want to kill the deceased, but does so by accident or misadventure. Obviously, intentionally killing another and accidentally causing death are opposite extremes. What is in-between? Generally, the law asks whether the slayer ever possessed the intent to kill. In Virginia, one who plans the murder of another has premeditated the crime and commits Murder in the First Degree. One who only forms an intent to kill because of some sudden provocation commits Murder in the Second Degree.

What if there was no intent to kill, such as with a drunk driver, or a gun owner who mishandles a weapon? The law asks how reasonable the slayer's actions were. Would other people have recognized that what the slayer was doing was likely to result in the death of the deceased? If so, the slayer was reckless not to recognize and avoid such risks and reckless actions may rise to the level of being criminal. Sometimes, when the danger is so obvious, the law rejects a slayer's claim not to have recognized the risk of death, and will deem the slayer to have acted intentionally.

Hiring a Criminal Defense Lawyer for a Homicide Case

Have you been arrested or accused of homicide? Never try to battle your case in court alone. Attorney Paul Galanides has the experience you need to ensure you have the right counsel on your side. His commitment to provide the best representation possible stands against few with his 27 years of legal experience. It's important to know what you are facing ahead with such a life-altering moment, so schedule your free, no-obligation initial consultation today.