Homicide is the killing of another human being without legal justification.  The crime comes in three different forms- first degree murder, second degree murder, and manslaughter, all of which are serious felonies.


A homicide is classified as first degree murder if the killer acts with what is commonly referred to as “malice aforethought”.  This means that at the time of the killing, the perpetrator intended to cause the victim death or great bodily harm, which then resulted in death.  It is also considered first degree murder if the perpetrator commits a homicide during the commission of a forcible felony such as robbery, rape, or kidnapping.  Premeditation is not necessary, merely the intent to act in a way that creates a strong probability that death or great bodily harm will result.


Second degree murder is essentially the same as first degree murder, except that that the law will often downgrade the crime if the killer was acting out of sudden and intense emotion that was provoked by another, or if at the time of the killing they believed (unreasonably) that the killing was justified.  Like first degree murder, it requires intent to kill or do great bodily harm, but carries a lighter penalty because of the lack of malice aforethought.


Manslaughter is different from first and second degree murder because it does not require intent to kill.  Instead, manslaughter is the killing of another person while engaged in an activity that is likely to cause death or great bodily harm if it is done recklessly.  However, if the cause of death is by a person recklessly driving a motor vehicle, the crime is often reduced further to reckless homicide.