The Legal Difference Between Murder and Homicide


We frequently hear the terms “homicide” and “murder” used interchangeably, particularly by reporters on our evening news. However, what these journalists most likely don’t realize is that there is a very important and distinct difference between the two when it comes to law. This difference can have a significant impact on your case, so it’s important to take a look and learn about these terms in greater detail.


To put it simple, “homicide” is the legal term for an action that results in the loss of life of another. This is intentionally designed to be a broadly-encompassing term because any action that results in the death of another individual is intended to be recorded with this label. This can include pre-meditated, gruesome killings, accidental deaths caused by sheer accidents, deaths caused by negligence, or even self-defense killings.

This is where the legal difference comes in: “homicides” can be both justifiable and unjustifiable. For example, a police officer shooting and killing a suspect who is threatening the lives of themselves, their fellow officers, and other citizens, will be said to have committed a “homicide” action, but in this instance it will likely be considered “justified.” Same goes with someone who kills a home-intruder who intends to harm them or their family—the action is recorded, but as a “justifiable homicide.”


The term “murder” is used to label unjustifiable homicides, and describes killings which have criminal consequences. There are four types of murder recognized by the law in Colorado:

  • Murder in the first degree is any killing which involves (1)a deliberate and premeditated killing of someone other than themselves, (2)killing another individual whilst committing another crime, such as arson, rape, robbery, or kidnapping, (3)having someone killed by perjury or lying to the court while under oath, or a few other special circumstances
  • Murder in the second degree is when a person knowingly and willfully causes the death of another but not in any of the circumstances listed as murder in the first degree.
  • Manslaughter is when someone’s actions recklessly cause the death of another individual. This also includes knowingly causing or aiding someone else in committing suicide.
  • Criminally negligent homicide is when someone causes the death of another person “by conduct amounting to criminal negligence,” or when they recognized the dangerous nature of their actions, but chose to proceed with those actions anyway.

If you are facing charges for a crime such as murder or manslaughter, your freedom, reputation, and livelihood could be on the line. It is crucial that you obtain representation from a skilled Denver criminal defense attorney who can fight back against your accusations in the most optimal fashion. Attorney Joseph A. Lazzara, P.C. has dedicated his legal practice to protecting those facing the extreme consequences of the law, and has extensive experience with nearly all types of crimes, including murder trials.

Contact the Law Office of Joseph A. Lazzara, P.C. at (720) 809-8262 and schedule a free, no-obligation case evaluation for your needs today!