By: Marc Immanuel

Published on: 13 December 2016
Last updated on: 29 April 2018



A ‘homicide [from Latin, ‘homocidium’, literally, ‘human-killing’, formed on, homo, “human”, and cidium, “act of killing”] is defined as:

any act by a human being which causes the death of another human being.

(resource 2, source 3)

According to United States criminal law, a justifiable homicide’ is a ‘homicide’ (killing of another human being) which is ‘justifiable’ (based on the natural and legal right of self-defense or defense of others from intended killing or serious bodily harm by an aggressor).

A homicide can only be legally justified if there is sufficient evidence to prove that it was reasonable to believe that the offending party posed an imminent threat to the life or bodily well-being of another human being.

To rule a justifiable homicide, one must objectively prove to a ‘trier of fact’ (a person, or group of persons, who determines facts in a legal proceeding, usually a trial), beyond all reasonable doubt, that the victim intended to commit violence.

(source 6)

US law gives US police a more expanded definition of ‘justifiable homicide’ than it does to civilians in territory under the jurisdiction of most US states.

A killing of a civilian by a US police officer is considered, under US law, a ”justifiable homicide” if, at the moment of the killing, the police officer had “objectively reasonable” cause to perceive that the civilian posed an imminent threat of serious bodily harm to oneself or another human being (regardless of whether or not that perception corresponded to an actual threat).

If there is not sufficient evidence presented to disprove that a police officer had such reasonable cause to perceive an imminent threat of serious bodily harm, the officer who committed a homicide cannot be held legally accountable for a crime of murder/manslaughter.

Some US states have begun to grant civilians the legal right to use force against police officers if they have objectively reasonable cause to perceive that the police officer(s) pose an imminent threat of use of unlawful force. (source, Anti-Media)

(sources 4, 5)

Intent to kill or to commit grievious bodily harm ( “really serious bodily harm”) against a human being, even if the intent arises just prior to the act (if it is not premeditated or planned), is, in a traditional US legal term, termed ‘malice aforethought‘.

As of 2017 in US criminal law, the four states of mind recognized as constituting “malice aforethought” in murder prosecutions are the following:

  1. Intent to kill,
  2. Intent to inflict grievous bodily harm short of death,
  3. Reckless indifference to an unjustifiably high risk to human life
    (sometimes described as an “abandoned and malignant heart”), or
  4. Intent to commit a dangerous felony (the “felony murder” doctrine).

    (resource 1, source 3)

    Homicides which are not justifiable (and which are, therefore, crimes), are, under the most common US legal scheme of classification, classified into:

(1) ‘first-degree murder’
any intentional killing with malice aforethought that is premeditated or planned

(2) ‘second-degree murder’
any intentional killing with malice aforethought that is not premeditated or planned

(3) ‘voluntary manslaughter’ (also referred to as ‘third-degree murder’) —
any intentional killing without any malice aforethought
(involving no prior intent to kill),
which was committed under such circumstances
that would “cause a reasonable person to become emotionally or mentally disturbed”

(4) ‘involuntary manslaughter’ (sometimes referred to as ‘fourth-degree murder’) —
any unintentional killing that stems from a lack of intention to cause death
but involving an intentional, or negligent, act leading to death


1. “Murder (United States Law)”,
Wikipedia, volunteer-written encyclopedia, article (law)
2. “Justifiable Homicide”,
Wikipedia, volunteer-written encyclopedia, article (law)
3. “Homocide: Murder and Manslaughter”,
Nolo, legal encyclopedia, article (law)
4. “Malice Aforethought”,
Wikipedia, volunteer-written encyclopedia, article (law)
5. “Introduction to the Law of the United States“, section “Criminal Law” (pg 154)
Edited by David S. Clark (professor of law) and Tugrul Ansay (professor of law), 2002
6. ”Police Can Use Deadly Force if They Merely Perceive a Threat”,
Vox, article (law)


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