Information on Homicide

What is homicide?

According to the LA Times, 28 homicides have been committed in Pasadena since January 1, 2007. The state of California defines homicide as any death where another person is at fault, but there are other mitigating factors that can influence a charge of homicide. Many people use murder and homicide interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. The largest difference between murder and homicide is that murder requires the intent to kill another human being while homicide does not.

Homicide is not always illegal, while murder is always illegal. For instance, when a law enforcement officer must kill another person in order to save his life or the life of others, the officer has committed homicide but will typically not be charged with a criminal offense. When criminal homicide is involved, a crime can fall under the categories of murder or manslaughter.


California Penal Code §187(a) defines murder as the unlawful killing of a human being or a fetus with malice aforethought. In order for the prosecution to convict an individual of murder, they must be able to prove that the killing was unlawful and that malice was involved. An individual can commit a first-degree murder in California by one of the following three ways:

  • Committing the murder with a destructive device, explosive, ammunition, poison etc.; or by lying in wait and inflicting torture
  • Killing in a way that is willful, deliberate and premeditated
  • Through the felony-murder rule, which involves committing any felony which automatically turns into a logically-related death

Capital murder, known as first-degree murder with special circumstances, can be punishable by the death penalty or by a life prison sentence without the possibility of parole.


There are two types of manslaughter that an individual can be charged with as per California Penal Code §187 and §192: voluntary and involuntary. Involuntary manslaughter involves an unintentional death that takes place during the commission of an unlawful act not amounting to a felony. Involuntary manslaughter does not include acts that are committed while driving a car, and those are discussed in California's vehicular manslaughter laws.

Voluntary manslaughter involves an unlawful killing that one commits during a sudden quarrel or in the heat of passion. For example, a man who comes home and finds his wife with another man may commit voluntary manslaughter in a fit of rage. The maximum penalty for voluntary manslaughter in California is 11 years in prison and this is often used as a defense for murder.

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