Homicide

Homicide is the formal term for one person killing another person, whether the act was criminal or not. There are four legal categories of homicide, whichvary in their definitions and associated punishments from country to country.

The main categories of homicide are murder, which denotes a crime committed with malicious or clear intent; manslaughter, which includes acts committed ina moment of passion or recklessness without malice aforethought; noncriminalhomicide; and excusable, negligent, or accidental homicide, such as when someone dies during surgery due to unforeseen complications.

In the United States, the categories of murder and manslaughter are subdivided into levels of seriousness, or "degrees."

Homicides generally not regarded as criminal are those committed in self-defense, to aid a police officer or other representative of the law (for instance, during a sanctioned execution), or to stop someone from committing a serious crime. In addition, the legal systems of some countries consider the "mercykilling" or euthanasia of a terminally ill or grievously injured person to be noncriminal.

Penalties for homicide can vary to the same degree as the definition of the crime, but usually murder is punishable by death or life imprisonment, while aconviction for manslaughter may bring a certain maximum jail term.

A 1997 study by the World Health Organization showed that about 300,000 people are murdered worldwide each year in wars, conflicts, and violence between individuals. Young men are at the highest risk of being killed. Studies in many countries show that 4 out of 10 deaths of men aged 15 to 24 are due to murder or suicide. Every day in the United States, 65 people are killed and morethan 6,000 are wounded in interpersonal violence.

Many researchers have looked into the causes of homicide. Recent explanationshave focused on economic deprivation, unemployment, social disorganization (for example, lack of family ties), weapons, race, culture, and gender inequality. These contributing factors are further broken down into homicides in which the victim and killer know each other, and homicides in which the victim and killer are strangers.

In a United States study published in 1994, scholars gathered data from Supplemental Homicide Reports listing demographic characteristics of victims and killers for over 20,000 annual homicides. Local enforcement agencies used a uniform system for reporting homicides to the FBI, giving what many see as exceptionally accurate criminal justice data. Scholars looked at trends over theyears and found consistent patterns. In cases of homicide by strangers, about95% of the killers were male, about 51% were minorities, and most fell intothe 28-36 age group. A comparison of homicide statistics around the world showed that it is primarily a crime committed by young men.

From the 1960s to the 1990s, the homicide rate increased steadily in the United States. By 1999, the rate had fallen to 6.3 per 100,000, which was the level in 1967. Federal officials attributed this drop to the 1994 Brady Bill that restricted gun purchases, to a federal program to trace guns used in crimes, and to many new state gun control laws. A 1993 case-controlled study in theUnited States showed that people living in a house with guns were 2.7 timesmore likely to be killed as people living in a house without guns. An international study showed a higher rate of homicide in urban areas with a high population density.

Some urban areas, such as New York City, have been successful in reducing thehomicide rate by focusing on young drug dealers who routinely carry guns. Brooklyn, a New York City borough with one of the highest homicide rates, has seen an increase in gang activity and domestic disputes. However, New York City's overall trend for the 1990s was still a sharply decreased murder rate, from 2,245 murders in 1990 to an estimated 600 murders in 1999.

An analysis of juvenile homicide rates showed that children in 1998 were no more violent than children 20 years ago. While juvenile homicides often receive a lot of publicity, they are still rare in comparison with adult killings.Statistics gathered in 1996 showed that only 3% of homicides in the United States involved a juvenile under 18 killing another juvenile.

Additional analysis showed juvenile killing continues to be a phenomenon of large cities, with about one-third of all juvenile homicide arrests concentrated in four urban areas: Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and Detroit. The fourcities contain only about 5% of the youth population of America.

While school killings receive extensive media attention, a 1994 analysis by the Centers for Disease Control showed that 99.4% of homicides and suicides ofschool-aged children occurred away from school.

Even though the juvenile homicide rate stabilized during the 1990s and it isonly a small percentage of adult homicide, policy analysts have noted disturbing trends. Between 1984 and 1994, there was a fourfold increase in juvenilesarrested for gun homicide. American children die from guns 12 times as oftenoften as children of the other 25 industrialized nations combined. In a survey conducted by the United States Justice Department, two-thirds of Americanhigh school students said it would be easy to get a gun. Media surveys takenafter the 1999 shootings that left 15 people dead at Columbine High School inLittleton, Colorado, showed that many teenagers felt there was the potentialfor such violence to occur at most American high schools.

In trying to make sense of juvenile homicide trends, policy analysis have looked at the rate of child poverty in the United States. A 1995 study by the National Science Foundation showed that the United States had the highest childpoverty rate of 17 industrialized nations, with the United States rate beingthree times as high as those in other nations. In 1995, that translated to 14.8 million youth living in poverty, or about 1 in 4. The 1995 rate was almost double the child poverty rate measured in 1970.

It was also in 1995 that, for the first time, it became illegal for United States juveniles to own handguns or the ammunition for handguns. Many state andlocal jurisdictions have passed additional laws to restrict juveniles from gun ownership. Police in Washington, D.C., noted at 63% drop in juvenile homicide arrests when neighboring states restricted gun sales. When Massachusettsenacted a "one-gun-a-month" law, Boston went for two and a half years withouta child being killed.

Some cities have entered an experimental partnership with the federal government, called Project Exile, that gives states the authority to prosecute for illegal guns under federal statutes, where penalties are much more severe. InRichmond, Virginia, an early partner of Project Exile, the homicide rate hasfallen by 36% in two years. Richmond also attributes its success to the waning of the crack cocaine epidemic, and to a no-parole policy that keeps felonslocked up longer.

While other cities such as Philadelphia and Oakland, California, have joinedProject Exile, the Justice Department is not interested in extending the project nationwide. The National Rifle Association (NRA), which is concerned about lawsuits against the gun industry, has welcomed Project Exile as a means toshow that gun owners behave responsibly. The Justice Department has been reluctant to appear to align itself with the NRA. Some defense lawyers have alsocriticized Project Exile for removing local cases, many of which involve minority defendants, from the jurisdiction of the city court system.

Scholars have looked at gender and homicide to see if women kill under different circumstances than men. A 1998 study of women on death row showed that women were much less likely than men to commit homicide and this finding may belinked to biological differences between the sexes. The death row study confirmed that female criminals are usually poor, under-educated, unemployed, unskilled, and likely to be involved with drugs. African-American women convicted of murder faced that the authors termed a "trilogy of oppression"-racial oppression, sexual discrimination, and class stratification. The study called for additional research into the causes of female violence and the developmentof early intervention programs.

None of the women in the death row study used insanity defenses when they were tried for murder, yet many presented with borderline personality disorder,antisocial personal disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder or attention deficit disorder. The researchers felt that race was a much stronger influence than gender on homicidal women. African-American women were likely to become violent at an earlier age than their white counterparts; thus, plans to dismantle programs for juvenile offenders placed young black women at special risk.

The study identified two new trends in female homicide offenders. The majority of white offenders were convicted of murdering intimates (as defined by theDepartment of Justice). In the sample studied, black women were more likelyto murder for financial gain. The researchers cautioned that this preliminarystudy was limited to a small sample of 37 white and black women and that much more research needs to be done.

In 1999, a group of British researchers looked at the relationship of mentalillness to murder and noted that it was very difficult to draw conclusions, because there were so many different definitions of mental disorder. In addition, there were very few studies that looked at mental illness and homicide inthe general population (as opposed to the prison population), so there was no basis for comparison. The researchers found that 44% of prisoners convictedof murder had a lifetime history of mental disorder, with 14% showing activesymptoms at the time of the murder. Those with mental illness at the time ofthe offense commonly suffered from depression, delusions or hallucinations,which might suggest a psychotic degree of illness.

Out of the total samples of 102 prisoners, only 14% had ever been in contactwith mental health services. Research is continuing to see how clinical management of mental patients can be improved, with the idea of reducing the riskof homicide.

The 102 British offenders were most likely to be male, single and unemployed,with a history of misuse of alcohol, drugs, or both. The commonest diagnoseswere for personality disorder and schizophrenia. Over half of the offendershad a previously documented history of violence. Mental health workers evaluated the as being preventable in only 8 cases and described measures that might have reduced the risk in another 40 cases. In the cases where risk could have been reduced, the most frequent recommendation was for monitoring of the patient's compliance with mental health treatment.

A 1996 review of homicidal violence in the United States examined offenders with psychotic, borderline, dependent, narcissistic, masochistic or depressiveconditions. Typically mental health providers recognize the first three conditions as being risk factors for violence. However, clinicians are starting to see a relationship between homicide and narcissism, masochism and depression. Mental health professionals are cautioned not to inadvertently encourage patients with such illnesses, as an ill patient could misinterpret a comment as giving permission to follow through on a violent impulse.

Workplace homicide is the second leading cause of job-related death, according to National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health statistics. Workplace murders reached a peak in 1992, when 1,080 people died, and dropped to 709in 1998. The year 1992 was also significant because is marked the close of a10-year trend, when the number of people who killed their bosses doubled. Each year in the workplace, 13,000 acts of violence are committed against womenby current and former boyfriends and husbands. Risk management experts pointto dehumanizing factors in the workplace, such as downsizing and mergers, which give workers the feeling of being cogs in an impersonal machine. Anothertheory of violent behavior suggests that the media glamorize violence and appear to give people permission to kill. Risk managers recommend measures suchas prosecuting all threats of violence and restricting access to the workplace by increasing security.

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