Homicide charges are some of the most severe criminal charges you can face. A conviction could leave you facing life in prison, or even the death penalty. That’s why building a strong defense against homicide charges is so important. Before you go to court, you need to know your attorney has handled these capital charges before and can fight for your best defense.
Homicide is a broad term for any time one person kills another person with criminal intent and no legal justification. There are a variety of different types of homicide, each with their own elements (what the prosecutor has to prove), defenses, and penalties.
When someone dies by violent or suspicious means, police and prosecutors are often pressured to bring homicide charges against someone, even if they are uncertain who the proper defendant is, or if that defendant has a legal defense. Which type of homicide charges will apply depends on the defendant’s actions and state of mind. In addition, the scientific evidence and the opinion of the medical examiner will play a huge factor in the decision if prosecution is merited. Often, the decision also depends on how much “proof” investigators have gathered. This evidence gathered or the lack of evidence creates an opportunity for a variety of homicide defenses.
The most serious of the homicide charges, a murder charge requires the prosecutor to prove that a person illegally killed another person with “malice aforethought.” This mental state requires either:
There is also a rarely used charge of Second Degree Murder. These charges apply when child cruelty results in death, regardless of mental intent.
The next step down in homicide cases is voluntary manslaughter. This is still an intentional killing, but in these cases, the killing happens in the “heat of the moment” based on serious provocation. In some cases, voluntary manslaughter may be used as a defense to murder charges. If your criminal defense attorney can show that the prosecutor had no evidence you planned ahead, the charges against you could be reduced and you could avoid capital penalties.
Felony murder is an offense that is available while a felony violation is being committed. Specific intent or the intention to kill is not required. Of interest, the penalty for felony murder is the same as Murder. By way of an example of felony murder, if someone burns a building through arson, and as a result of the arson a death occurs, the State could bring a felony murder charge. It is not uncommon for the State to charge someone with both felony murder as well as murder.
The least severe form of homicide is involuntary manslaughter. Prosecutors can impose these charges any time an unlawful act causes the death of another person, even if the death itself was not intended. This can be the result of a misdemeanor or other unlawful act, or even a lawful act performed in an unlawful manner. Involuntary manslaughter includes cases of reckless homicide and vehicular homicide.
Unlike murder and voluntary manslaughter, involuntary homicide does not require the prosecutor to prove you meant someone to die. Instead, it is a “general intent” crime. As long as you intended to do the unlawful act (i.e. swing a weapon or speed on the highway), you can still face involuntary manslaughter charges.
Vehicular homicide cases do not require intent. These homicide violations are typically charged when a death occurs as a result of a DUI violation or a reckless driving violation. These types of homicide charges can be technical, and part of the defense requires that the Defense attorney have a good understanding of DUI law.
The penalty for Georgia homicide charges depends on the final conviction. In capital cases, the jury must determine whether you will face the death penalty or be sentenced to life in prison.
Death, life without parole, or life with parole eligibility
Second Degree Murder
10 - 30 years in prison
1 - 20 years in prison
Involuntary Manslaughter (unlawful act)
1 - 10 years in prison
Involuntary Manslaughter (lawful act)
Less than 1 year in jail
Depending on the specific circumstances in your case, there are a number of possible defenses to homicide charges based on police behavior, lack of evidence, and mistaken identity. Your criminal defense attorney will review every step of the investigation and arrest to help you identify defenses and gaps in the prosecutor’s case. However, homicide charges also lend themselves to two specific defenses:
Because the difference between homicide charges comes from the defendant’s intent, a successful homicide defense may center on a lack of intent to kill or injure the victim. If you can demonstrate that the killing was accidental rather than intentional, you may be able to reduce a murder charge to involuntary homicide, or even have the charges dismissed entirely.
There are also times Georgia law says you may be justified in the intentional killing of another person. These cases include:
Georgia’s self-defense and stand-your ground laws give you the right to defend yourself, with lethal force if necessary. You will likely still face homicide charges. However, your criminal defense attorney can use the immunity statutes to have those charges dismissed by showing the death was a justifiable homicide. Georgia law actually provides that an individual is immune from criminal prosecution in certain circumstances. Your Defense attorney will advise you on the applicability of the immunity statute.
At the McCoy Law Firm, LLC, our experienced criminal defense attorneys take on some of the toughest cases in the state. Criminal defense attorney Lance McCoy has decades of experience taking on capital defense cases, including murder. He will review all the details in your homicide case, build your defenses, and protect your rights and your freedom. If you are facing homicide charges, please contact Criminal & DUI Law of Georgia so we can begin working on your case right away.