Cain kills Abel by Gustave Dore

Homicide is an act in which a human causes the death of another human.[1]

A homicide requires only a volitional act or an omission that causes the death of another, and thus a homicide may result from accidental, reckless, or negligent acts even if there is no intent to cause harm.[2] Homicides can be divided into many overlapping legal categories, such as murder, manslaughter, justifiable homicide, assassination, killing in war (either following the laws of war or as a war crime), euthanasia, and capital punishment, depending on the circumstances of the death. These different types of homicides are often treated very differently in human societies; some are considered crimes, while others are permitted or even ordered by the legal system.


Criminal homicide takes many forms including accidental killing or murder. Criminal homicide is divided into two broad categories, murder and manslaughter, based upon the state of mind and intent of the person who commits the homicide.[3]

A report issued by the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime in July 2019 documented that nearly 464,000 people around the world were killed in homicides in 2017, a number significantly in excess of the 89,000 killed in armed conflicts during the same period.[4]


Main article: Murder

Murder is the most serious crime that can be charged following a homicide. In many jurisdictions, murder may be punished by life in prison or even capital punishment.[5] Although categories of murder can vary by jurisdiction, murder charges fall under two broad categories:

In some jurisdictions, a homicide that occurs during the commission of a dangerous crime may constitute murder, regardless of the actor's intent to commit homicide. In the United States, this is known as the felony murder rule.[6] In simple terms, under the felony murder rule a person who commits a felony may be guilty of murder if someone dies as a result of the commission of the crime, including the victim of the felony, a bystander or a co-felon, regardless their intent—or lack thereof—to kill, and even when the death results from the actions of a co-defendant or third party who is reacting to the crime.


Main article: Manslaughter

Manslaughter is a form of homicide in which the person who commits the homicide either does not intend to kill the victim, or kills the victim as the result of circumstances that would cause a reasonable person to become emotionally or mentally disturbed to the point of potentially losing control of their actions.[7] The distinction between murder and manslaughter is sometimes said to have first been made by the ancient Athenian lawmaker Draco in the 7th century BC. The penalty for manslaughter is normally less than the penalty for murder. The two broad categories of manslaughter are:[7]

Another form of manslaughter in some jurisdictions is constructive manslaughter, which may be charged if a person causes a death without intention but as the result of violating an important safety law or regulation.[8][9]

Lawful excuse

Main article: Justifiable homicide

Not all homicides are crimes, or subject to criminal prosecution.[10] Some are legally privileged, meaning that they are not criminal acts at all. Others may occur under circumstances that provide the defendant with a full or partial defense to criminal prosecution. Common defenses include:

The availability of defenses to a criminal charge following a homicide may affect the homicide rate. For example, it has been suggested that the availability of "stand your ground" defense has resulted in an increase in the homicide rate in U.S. jurisdictions that recognize the defense,[14] including Florida.[15][16]

By state actors

Killings by government agents may be considered lawful or unlawful according to:

Types of state killings include:

Scholars study especially large homicide events (typically 50,000 deaths in five years or less) as mass killings. Some medium- and large-scale mass killings by state actors have been termed massacres, though not all such killings have been so named. The term democide has been coined by Rudolph Rummel to describe "murder by government" in general, which includes both extrajudicial killings and widespread systematic homicide.

Killings by government agents might be called "murder" or "mass murder" in general usage, especially if seen by the commentator as unethical, but the domestic legal definitions of murder, manslaughter, etc., usually exclude killings carried out by lawful government action.

Systematic government killing

Deliberate massacres of captives or civilians during wartime or periods of civil unrest by the state's military forces include those committed by Genghis Khan, the Golden Horde, the troops of Vlad the Impaler, the British Empire in its colonies, the Empire of Japan, the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany during the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II, the Herero and Namaqua genocide, being the 1st genocide of the 20th century and committed by the German Empire, The Holocaust, the Nanjing Massacre, the Katyn Forest Massacre of Polish citizens in 1940 and the massacres of political prisoners after the launch of Operation Barbarossa, the Three Alls Policy, the massacre of Soviet Jews at Babi Yar, the mass murder of the Hungarian, Serbian and German population in Vojvodina in the "Vengeance of Bacska", the murder of 24 unarmed villagers by British troops in the Batang Kali massacre during the Malayan Emergency, the mass killings in Indonesia during Suharto's rise to power,[17][18] the murder of suspected leftists during Operation Condor in South America,[19] the murder of Vietnamese civilians by American soldiers in the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War, the genocidal massacres of the Maya population during the Guatemalan Civil War,[20] the massacre at El Mozote during the Salvadoran Civil War,[21] repeated attacks on civilians during the Syrian civil war including the Al-Qubeir massacre and the Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Empire.

Actions in which the state indirectly caused the death of large numbers of people include human-made disasters caused by the state, such as the famines in India during British rule,[22] the atrocities in the Congo Free State,[23] the Khmer Rouge years in Cambodia, the Holodomor in Soviet Ukraine and wider Soviet famine, the famines and poverty caused by the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution in the People's Republic of China,[24] and the famine in Yemen triggered by the U.S.–backed Saudi Arabian-led intervention and blockade.[25][26][27]


Main article: List of countries by intentional homicide rate

Graphs are unavailable due to technical issues. There is more info on Phabricator and on
See or edit source data.
Number of homicide deaths per 100,000 people[28]
Countries with the highest intentional homicide rates are generally less populous.[29]
Comparison of homicide rates for high-income OECD countries[30]


A 2011 study by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime brought together a wide variety of data sources to create a worldwide picture of trends and developments.[31] Sources included multiple agencies and field offices of the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and national and international sources from 207 countries.

The report estimated that in 2010, the total number of homicides globally was 468,000. More than a third (36%) occurred in Africa, 31 percent in the Americas, 27 percent in Asia, five percent in Europe and one percent in Oceania. Since 1995, the homicide rate has been falling in Europe, North America, and Asia, but has risen to a near "crisis point" in Central America and the Caribbean. Of all homicides worldwide, 82 percent of the victims were men, and 18 percent were women.[32] On a per-capita scaled level, "the homicide rate in Africa and the Americas (at 17 and 16 per 100,000 population, respectively) is more than double the global average (6.9 per 100,000), whereas in Asia, Europe and Oceania (between 3 and 4 per 100,000) it is roughly half".[32]

In its 2013 global report, UNODC estimated the total number of homicides worldwide had dropped to 437,000 in 2012. The Americas accounted for 36 percent of all homicides globally, Africa 21 percent, Asia 38 percent, Europe five percent and Oceania 0.3%.[33] The world's average homicide rate stood at 6.2 per 100,000 population in 2012, but the Southern Africa region and Central America had intentional homicide rates four times higher than the world average. They were the most violent regions globally, outside of regions experiencing wars and religious or sociopolitical terrorism.[33] Asia exclusive of West Asia and Central Asia, Western Europe, Northern Europe, as well as Oceania had the lowest homicide rates in the world. About 41 percent of the homicides worldwide occurred in 2012 with the use of guns, 24 percent by stabbing with sharp objects such as knife, and 35 percent by other means such as poison. The global conviction rate for the crime of intentional homicide in 2012 was 43 percent.[34]

The 2011 Global Study on Homicide reported that "[W]here homicide rates are high and firearms and organized crime in the form of drug trafficking play a substantial role, 1 in 50 men aged 20 will be murdered before they reach the age of 31. At the other, the probability of such an occurrence is up to 400 times lower. [H]omicide is much more common in countries with low levels of human development, high levels of income inequality and weak rule of law than in more equitable societies, where socioeconomic stability seems to be something of an antidote to homicide. In cases of intimate partner and family-related homicide cases, women murdered by their past or present male partner make up the vast majority of homicide victims worldwide."[31]

Historic European

Estimated homicide rates
in Europe[35]: 100 
Deaths per year
per 100,000 population
13th–14th centuries 32
15th century 41
16th century 19
17th century 11
18th century 3.2
19th century 2.6
20th century 1.4

In the mid-second millennium, local levels of violence in Europe were extremely high by the standards of modern developed countries. Typically, small groups of people would battle their neighbors using the farm tools at hand, such as knives, sickles, hammers, and axes. Mayhem and death were deliberate. The vast majority of Europeans lived in rural areas till 1800. Cities were few, and small in size, but their concentration of population was conducive to violence and their trends resembled those in rural areas.[35] Across Europe, homicide trends show a steady long-term decline.[36][37] Regional differences were small, except that Italy's decline was later and slower. From about 1200 AD through 1800 AD, homicide rates from violent local episodes, not including military actions, declined by a factor of ten, from approximately 32 deaths per 100,000 people to 3.2 per 100,000. In the 20th century, the homicide rate fell to 1.4 per 100,000. Police forces seldom existed outside the cities; prisons only became common after 1800. Before then, harsh penalties were imposed for homicide (severe whipping or execution) but they proved ineffective at controlling or reducing the insults to honor that precipitated most of the violence.[38] The decline does not correlate with economics or measures of state control. Most historians attribute the trend in homicides to a steady increase in self-control of the sort promoted by Protestantism, and necessitated by schools and factories.[35]: 127–32  Eisner argues that macro-level indicators for societal efforts to promote civility, self-discipline, and long-sightedness are strongly associated with fluctuations in homicide rates over the past six centuries.[39]

United States

See also: List of U.S. states and territories by intentional homicide rate

Homicide rates by U.S. state per 100,000 residents[40][41][42]
Homicide rate by county
Fetal homicide laws in the United States
  "Homicide" or "murder"
  Other crime against fetus
  Depends on age of fetus
  Assaulting mother
  No law on feticide

In the US, the National Violent Death Reporting System is a centralized database of relevant information from death certificates, coroner and medical examiner records, and law enforcement reports, which emerged from the National Violent Injury Statistics System. This public health surveillance tool began collecting data in 2003 and is analyzed by the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the CDC to provide nationally representative data.

In 2020, there were 18,439 cases of single homicide (28.6% of all violent deaths) in the 48 states and DC, a rate of 6.7 per 100,000 inhabitants. There were 695 cases of multiple homicide (1%) and 571 cases (<1%) of homicide followed by suicide with an overall homicide rate of 7.5 per 100,000 population. The weapons most commonly used in homicides were firearms, used in 76.7% of homicides overall; followed by a sharp instrument (9%); a blunt instrument (3%); personal weapons (e.g., hands, feet, or fists; 2.5%); and hanging, strangulation, or suffocation (1.5%). Among all homicide victims, a house or apartment was the most common location of homicide (41%); followed by a street or highway (22%); a motor vehicle (10%); and a parking lot, public garage, or public transport (4.5%). Precipitating circumstances were identified in 69% of homicides. One-third of homicides with known circumstances were precipitated by an argument or conflict (34%), and 15% of homicides with known circumstances were related to intimate partner violence. Homicides also were commonly precipitated by another crime (23%); in 66% of those cases, the crime was in progress at the time of the incident like assault or homicide (38.9%), robbery (32.9%), drug trade (14.5%), burglary (11%), motor vehicle theft (5%), rape or sexual assault (2%). A larger proportion of homicides of females than males resulted from caregiver abuse or neglect (9.0% versus 2.7%) or were perpetrated by a suspect with a mental health problem (e.g., schizophrenia or other psychotic conditions, depression, or posttraumatic stress disorder) (6.3% versus 1.7%). Homicide rates are known to be higher in males and in communities with concentrated poverty, stressed economies, residential instability, neighborhood disorganization, low community cohesion, and informal controls. The overall firearm homicide rate in 2020 was higher than in the last 20 years, disproportionately borne by Native Americans and Black persons. It is thought that the COVID-19 pandemic increased social and economic stress.[43]

See also


  1. ^ "Homicide definition". Cornell University Law School. 30 June 2009. Archived from the original on 7 June 2014. Retrieved 22 April 2014.
  2. ^ Melenik, Juey (9 September 2015). "7 Common Mistakes Regarding Autopsy Reports". Advantage Business Media. Forensic News Daily. Archived from the original on 1 December 2017. Retrieved 21 November 2017.
  3. ^ "Chapter 9: Criminal Homicide". Criminal Law: Criminal Homicide. University of Minnesota. 17 December 2015. Archived from the original on 11 September 2017. Retrieved 11 September 2017.
  4. ^ "Homicide kills far more people than armed conflict, says new UNODC study". Archived from the original on 3 May 2020. Retrieved 9 July 2019.
  5. ^ "Federal Laws Providing for the Death Penalty". Death Penalty Information Center. Archived from the original on 11 September 2017. Retrieved 11 September 2017.
  6. ^ Fletcher, George P. (1980). "Reflections on Felony Murder". Southwestern University Law Review. 12: 413. Archived from the original on 8 December 2017. Retrieved 11 September 2017.
  7. ^ a b "9.6 Manslaughter". Criminal Law: Manslaughter. University of Minnesota. 17 December 2015. Archived from the original on 10 September 2017. Retrieved 11 September 2017.
  8. ^ Slapper, Gary (1 December 1993). "Corporate Manslaughter: an Examination of the Determinants of Prosecutorial Polic" (PDF). Social & Legal Studies. 2 (4): 423–443. doi:10.1177/096466399300200404. S2CID 1337567. Archived (PDF) from the original on 12 February 2020. Retrieved 13 June 2019.
  9. ^ e.d. fatal accidents with alpinists Condamnation de deux alpinistes pour « homicide involontaire » Archived 5 February 2019 at the Wayback Machine L’avocat du syndicat des guides dérape sur l’arête du Goûter Archived 26 December 2018 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Stevens, T.L. (February 1957). "Manslaughter and Negligent Homicide". Judge Advocate General Journal. 1957. Archived from the original on 8 December 2017. Retrieved 11 September 2017.
  11. ^ See, e.g., California Constitution, Art. 1, Sec. 1
  12. ^ See, e.g., California Penal Code, Sec. 197.
  13. ^ See the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Atkins v. Virginia.
  14. ^ Vedantam, Shankar (2 January 2013). "'Stand Your Ground' Linked To Increase In Homicides". All Things Considered. National Public Radio. Archived from the original on 26 January 2018. Retrieved 25 January 2018.
  15. ^ Sanburn, Josh (14 November 2016). "Florida's 'Stand Your Ground' Law Linked to Homicide Increase". Time. Archived from the original on 23 March 2018. Retrieved 25 January 2018.
  16. ^ Cheng, Cheng; Hoekstra, Mark (2013). "Does Strengthening Self-Defense Law Deter Crime or Escalate Violence? Evidence from Expansions to Castle Doctrine" (PDF). Journal of Human Resources. 48 (3): 821–854. doi:10.1353/jhr.2013.0023. S2CID 14390513. Archived (PDF) from the original on 5 June 2018. Retrieved 25 January 2018.
  17. ^ Mark Aarons (2007). "Justice Betrayed: Post-1945 Responses to Genocide Archived 16 December 2018 at the Wayback Machine." In David A. Blumenthal and Timothy L. H. McCormack (eds). The Legacy of Nuremberg: Civilising Influence or Institutionalised Vengeance? (International Humanitarian Law). Archived 5 January 2016 at the Wayback Machine Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. ISBN 9004156917 pp. 80–81 Archived 24 April 2017 at the Wayback Machine.
  18. ^ Bevins, Vincent (2020). The Jakarta Method: Washington's Anticommunist Crusade and the Mass Murder Program that Shaped Our World. PublicAffairs. pp. 238–243. ISBN 978-1541742406.
  19. ^ McSherry, J. Patrice (2011). "Chapter 5: "Industrial repression" and Operation Condor in Latin America". In Esparza, Marcia; Henry R. Huttenbach; Daniel Feierstein (eds.). State Violence and Genocide in Latin America: The Cold War Years (Critical Terrorism Studies). Routledge. p. 107. ISBN 978-0415664578.
  20. ^ The Secrets in Guatemala's Bones Archived 3 February 2018 at the Wayback Machine. The New York Times. June 30, 2016.
  21. ^ Maslin, Sarah Esther (13 December 2016). "Remembering El Mozote, the Worst Massacre in Modern Latin American History". The Nation. Archived from the original on 21 September 2018. Retrieved 23 January 2018.
  22. ^ Davis, Mike (2017). Late Victorian Holocausts: El Niño Famines and the Making of the Third World. Verso. p. 9. ISBN 978-1784786625.
  23. ^ Hochschild, Adam (1999). King Leopold's Ghost. Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 978-0618001903.
  24. ^ Akbar, Arifa (17 September 2010). "Mao's Great Leap Forward 'killed 45 million in four years'". The Independent. London. Archived from the original on 29 October 2010. Retrieved 20 September 2010.
  25. ^ Horesh, Theo (30 April 2017). "Is the Trump administration enabling genocide in Yemen? And will Americans ever pay attention?". Salon. Archived from the original on 27 October 2018. Retrieved 27 October 2018.
  26. ^ "Saudi Arabia Threatens Famine, Genocide in Yemen". The Real News. 13 November 2017. Archived from the original on 4 July 2018. Retrieved 27 October 2018.
  27. ^ Kristof, Nicholas (26 September 2018). "Be Outraged by America's Role in Yemen's Misery". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 28 October 2018. Retrieved 27 October 2018.
  28. ^ Roser, Max (6 July 2013). "Homicides". Our World in Data. Archived from the original on 10 October 2019. Retrieved 12 October 2019.
  29. ^ "Home >> Intentional Homicide Victims". dataUNODC. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Retrieved 23 October 2020.
  30. ^ Grinshteyn, Erin; Hemenway, David (March 2016). "Violent Death Rates: The US Compared with Other High-income OECD Countries, 2010". The American Journal of Medicine. 129 (3): 266–273. doi:10.1016/j.amjmed.2015.10.025. PMID 26551975. (Table 4). (PDF Archived 2 February 2019 at the Wayback Machine).
  31. ^ a b "2011 Global Study on Homicide". UNODC. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. 2011. Archived from the original on 18 December 2012. Retrieved 10 May 2018.
  32. ^ a b "United Nations 2011 Global Study on Homicide". Journalist's Resource. Archived from the original on 30 December 2011. Retrieved 2 December 2011.
  33. ^ a b UNODC, Global Study on Homicide Archived 3 November 2014 at the Wayback Machine 2013 Report
  34. ^ UNODC, Global Study on Homicide Archived 3 November 2014 at the Wayback Machine 2013 Report, page 18
  35. ^ a b c Eisner, Manuel (2003). "Long-Term Historical Trends in Violent Crime". Crime and Justice. 30: 83–142. doi:10.1086/652229. S2CID 53317626.
  36. ^ Stone, Lawrence (1983). "Interpersonal Violence in English Society, 1300–1980". Past and Present. 101 (1): 22–33. doi:10.1093/past/101.1.22.
  37. ^ Thome, Helmut (1 January 2001). "Explaining Long Term Trends in Violent Crime". Crime, Histoire & Sociétés. 5 (2): 69–86. doi:10.4000/chs.738. PMID 19582950.
  38. ^ On the growing role of local government in reducing local feuds see Matthew H. Lockwood, Death, Justice and the State: The Coroner and the Monopoly of Violence in England, 1500–1800 (2014) and his The Conquest of Death: Violence and the Birth of the Modern English State (2017).
  39. ^ Eisner, Manuel (2014). "From Swords to Words: Does Macro-Level Change in Self-Control Predict Long-Term Variation in Levels of Homicide?". Crime and Justice. 43 (1): 65–134. doi:10.1086/677662. S2CID 144894344.
  40. ^ Homicide Mortality by State. National Center for Health Statistics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  41. ^ New Hampshire. National Center for Health Statistics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  42. ^ Vermont. National Center for Health Statistics. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
  43. ^ Liu, Grace S. (2023). "Surveillance for Violent Deaths — National Violent Death Reporting System, 48 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, 2020". MMWR. Surveillance Summaries. 72 (5): 1–38. doi:10.15585/mmwr.ss7205a1. ISSN 1546-0738. PMC 10208308. PMID 37220104. S2CID 258865008.

Further reading