Vigorous Atlanta Murder (Homicide) Defense Lawyers
Types of Homicide (in Georgia)
The terms murder and homicide are often used interchangeably; however, they actually have different meanings. The definition of homicide is the killing of one human being by another. Criminal homicide can be committed in various ways. Murder is a type of homicide. In Georgia, there are several types of homicide: malice murder, felony murder, second degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, and involuntary manslaughter. A more detailed description of each is provided below.
The Legal Definition
A person commits the offense of malice murder when he unlawfully and with malice aforethought, either express or implied, causes the death of another human being. Express malice is that deliberate intention unlawfully to take the life of another human being which is manifested by external circumstances capable of proof. Malice shall be implied where no considerable provocation appears and where all the circumstances of the killing show an abandoned and malignant heart.
In Plain Terms
Essentially malice murder occurs when you intentionally kill a person. The State has to prove the malice, or intent to kill, in order to secure a conviction for malice murder. It is important to note that malice is not the same thing as premeditation. Georgia courts have determined that a person can form malice, or the intent to kill, moments before the actual murder.
A malice murder conviction carries a sentence of Life Imprisonment with the possibility of parole, Life Imprisonment without the possibility of parole, or the Death Penalty.
Examples of Malice Murder
Two friends get into a fight. Friend A leaves, drives to the store, and buys a gun. The next day, Friend A calls Friend B and says he wants to apologize. So, Friend A comes back over to talk with Friend B. A few minutes after arriving, Friend A shoots and kills Friend B. Friend A committed malice murder because he intended to shoot and kill Friend B.
Roommate X comes home one evening and sees that Roommate Y is pacing around the living room with a metal bat, yelling and screaming. All of a sudden, Roommate Y swings the bat at Roommate X, who grabs the bat and hits Roommate Y in the head, knocking him to the ground. While Roommate Y is on the ground Roommate X goes to the kitchen, grabs a sharp knife, comes back, and stabs Roommate Y in the neck multiple times. Roommate Y dies. Initially, Roommate X was acting in self-defense; however, Roommate X formed the intent to kill Roommate Y once he was knocked down. Roommate X committed malice murder by stabbing Roommate Y with knife.
The Legal Definition
A person commits the offense of felony murder when, in the commission of a felony, he or she causes the death of another human being irrespective of malice.
In Plain Terms
Felony murder occurs when you are committing a crime, which would be classified as a felony, and a person is killed during, or as a result of, that crime. The State does not need to prove malice, or the intent to kill, in order to secure a conviction for felony murder. All the State has to prove is that you intended to commit the initial felony and a person was killed as a result.
Although there is no intent to kill, a felony murder conviction, just like malice murder, carries a sentence of Life Imprisonment with the possibility of parole, Life Imprisonment without the possibility of parole, or the Death Penalty.
Example #1 of Felony Murder:Two teens decide to rob a gas station. They go inside, each holding up a gun. One teen walks over to the cashier and tells him to take out all the cash from the register, while the other teen is responsible for keeping an eye on the customers. All of a sudden, the second teen fires a shot at one of the customers because he tried to escape. The customer dies on the scene. Despite the fact that neither teen intended to shoot or kill anyone, both teens committed felony murder because they intended to rob the gas station and a customer was killed during that robbery.
Example #2 of Felony Murder:Person C meets Person D outside and sells him some cocaine. During the sale, they have an argument and Person C beats Person D into unconsciousness. Person D is taken to the hospital and later dies from injuries he received during the beating. Person C committed felony murder because he intended to sell cocaine, which is a felony, and Person D died from injuries received during that transaction.
SECOND DEGREE MURDERDespite a common misconception, Georgia does have the crime of second degree murder. In 2014, the Georgia legislature amended the murder statute to include second degree murder.
The Legal DefinitionA person commits the offense of murder in the second degree when, in the commission of cruelty to children in the second degree, he or she causes the death of another human being irrespective of malice. Any person commits the offense of cruelty to children in the second degree when such person with criminal negligence causes a child under the age of 18 cruel or excessive physical or mental pain. Criminal negligence is an act or failure to act which demonstrates a willful, wanton, or reckless disregard for the safety of others who might reasonably be expected to be injured thereby.
In Plain TermsSecond degree murder occurs when a child, under the age of 18, dies because of your neglect. The State is not required to prove malice, or the intent to kill, in order to secure a conviction for second degree murder. Instead, the State has to prove that you either knew or should have known that your actions, or neglect, would cause severe physical or mental pain to the child.
Sentencing ExposureA second degree murder conviction carriers a minimum of 10 years in prison and a maximum of 30 years in prison.
Example #1 of Second Degree Murder:During recess, a daycare instructor runs inside for five minutes, leaving several children unsupervised. When she returns, one of the kids is unconscious because he fell off the monkey bars. The child is taken to the hospital, where he is pronounced dead. The daycare instructor committed second degree murder because she neglected the child when she left him outside without adult supervision.
Example #2 of Second Degree Murder:A mother puts her newborn child in his crib for the night. There is a soft pillow inside the crib and the child falls asleep face down on that pillow. Several hours later, the mother comes to check on the child and finds him non-responsive, face down in the soft pillow. The child is pronounced dead on scene. The mother committed second degree murder because she knew or should have known the dangers of having a soft pillow in a newborn’s crib.
The Legal Definition: A person commits the offense of voluntary manslaughter when he causes the death of another human being under circumstances which would otherwise be murder and if he acts solely as the result of a sudden, violent, and irresistible passion resulting from serious provocation sufficient to excite such passion in a reasonable person; however, if there should have been an interval between the provocation and the killing sufficient for the voice of reason and humanity to be heard, of which the jury in all cases shall be the judge, the killing shall be attributed to deliberate revenge and be punished as murder.
In Plain Terms: Voluntary manslaughter occurs when a person’s actions provoke you to kill that person, as long as any reasonable person would have acted the same way you did under the circumstances.
Sentencing Exposure: A voluntary manslaughter conviction carriers a minimum of 1 year in prison and a maximum of 20 years in prison.
The Legal Definition: There are two ways to commit involuntary manslaughter in Georgia; one is a felony and one is a misdemeanor. A person commits the offense of involuntary manslaughter in the commission of an unlawful act (felony) when he causes the death of another human being without any intention to do so by the commission of an unlawful act other than a felony. A person commits the offense of involuntary manslaughter in the commission of a lawful act in an unlawful manner (misdemeanor) when he causes the death of another human being without any intention to do so, by the commission of a lawful act in an unlawful manner likely to cause death or great bodily harm.
In Plain Terms: Felony involuntary manslaughter occurs when you are committing a misdemeanor and a person is killed as a result. Misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter occurs when you are doing something legal, but in an illegal way, and a person is killed as a result. The State is not required to prove malice, or the intent to kill, in order to secure a conviction for involuntary manslaughter.
Sentencing Exposure: A felony involuntary manslaughter conviction carriers a minimum of 1 year in prison and a maximum of 10 years in prison. A misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter conviction carries a maximum of 12 months in jail.
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Justifiable Homicide aka Killing in Self-Defense or Defense of Others (in Georgia)
Defining Justifiable Homicide
The Legal Definition: A person is justified in using force that is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm only if that person reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily injury to himself or a third person, or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony. If a self-defense claim is raised, the State not only has to prove that you killed the person, but also that the killing was not in self-defense. In other words, the State must disprove your self-defense claim in order to secure a conviction.
In Plain Terms: If you believe that a person is about to kill or severely injury yourself or another person, you are allowed to kill that person in self-defense or in defense of another. You can also use deadly force to prevent a person from committing a violent felony, such as an armed robbery, rape, or aggravated assault.
The thing to keep in mind is that self-defense claims are examined based on a reasonable person standard. That means your actions are justifiable only if a normal, reasonable person would’ve acted in a similar manner under the circumstances. A self-defense claim will not be victorious if your actions were reasonable to you but would be unreasonable to the average person.
When homicide is not justifiable: There are 3 scenarios in which a person is not justified in using force that is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm: (1) If he initially provokes the use of force against himself with the intent to use such force as an excuse to inflict bodily harm upon the assailant; (2) is attempting to commit, committing, or fleeing after the commission or attempted commission of a felony; or (3) was the aggressor or was engaged in a combat by agreement, unless he withdraws from the encounter and effectively communicates to such other person his intent to do so and the other, notwithstanding, continues or threatens to continue the use of unlawful force.
Stand Your Ground Law
The law in some states places a duty to retreat on a person before they are justified in using deadly force against another. A duty to retreat means that if you can safely remove yourself from the threatening situation, you must do so. You can only use deadly force against another if leaving is not a safe option.
It is important to note that Georgia does not have a duty to retreat law. The law in Georgia is that if a person is about to kill or severely hurt you, or someone else, you have the right to stand your ground and use deadly force against that person.
Immunity From Prosecution
If you are facing murder charges and are raising a self-defense claim, then you probably need to have an immunity hearing. Your criminal defense attorney should file an immunity motion, which is a document that provides an explanation for why you should be immune from prosecution. At the hearing, your defense attorney should call witnesses and present evidence to support your self-defense claim. The State may present evidence to rebut your self-defense claim. Ultimately, the judge will decide whether you are immune from prosecution. If the judge rules in your favor, then the State is prohibited from prosecuting you and must dismiss the charges. If the judge rules against you, then you still have the option of presenting your self-defense claim to a jury during trial.
Other Common Legal Defenses to Criminal Homicide (in Georgia)
An alibi defense asserts that it is impossible for you to have committed the charged crime because you were elsewhere at the time of the crime. If you want to raise an alibi defense, Georgia law requires that your criminal defense attorney provide the State notice of your alibi defense at least 10 days prior to your jury trial. That notice must include the names and contact information of your alibi witnesses, as well as the specific place or places you claim to have been at the time of the crime. If an alibi defense is presented, the State must disprove it in order to secure a conviction.
Misfortune or Accident
Georgia law provides that a person shall not be found guilty of any crime committed by misfortune or accident where it satisfactorily appears there was no criminal scheme or undertaking, intention, or criminal negligence. In other words, you can raise an accident defense if unforeseen and unpredictable circumstances were the cause of death. There is no notice requirement for an accident defense, so you aren’t required to disclose that information to the State prior to your jury trial. If an accident defense is raised, the State must disprove it in order to secure a conviction.
Although the term insanity is frequently used in conversations, it has a specific legal definition when it comes to criminal defense. In Georgia, a person shall not be found guilty of a crime if, at the time of the act, omission, or negligence constituting the crime, that person did not have the mental capacity to distinguish between right and wrong in relation to the act, omission, or negligence. A lot of preparation goes into raising an insanity defense. For example, your defense attorney will likely review your mental health history and associated medical records, schedule a psychiatric evaluation, interview your family and close friends. Because you are presumed to be sane under the law, your attorney must rebut that presumption and present evidence to support your insanity defense.