Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Excusable Homicide Definition:

The accidental or self-defence killing of another person.

Related Terms: Homicide, Felonious Homicide, Justifiable Homicide, Per Infortunium

William Blackstone postulated that homicide (aka murder) was of three varieties, justifiable homicide, excusable homicide and felonious homicide. Today, those distinctions still exist albeit with different terminology in many common law jurisdiction. Some refer to murder to a 1st, 2nd or 3rd degree. Others distinguish between culpable homicide and not culpable homicide.

Blackstone defined excusable homicide as follows:

Excusable homicide is of two sorts: either per infortunium, by misadventure; or se defendendo, upon a principle of self-preservation.

”Homicide (by) misadventure is where a man, doing a lawful act without any intention of hurt, unfortunately kills another: as where a man is at work with a hatchet, and the head thereof flies off and kills a stander-by; or where a person qualified to keep a gun is shooting at a mark and undesignedly kills a man.

“Homicide in self-defense upon a sudden affray is also excusable. They cannot ... legally exercise this right of preventive defense but in sudden and violent cases, when certain and immediate suffering would be the consequence of waiting for the assistance of the law.”

In the context of necessitas inducit privilegium quoad jura private, Broom writes:

“[E]ven homicide is sometimes excusable, when done to preserve life. If a man be wrongfully assailed, so that he be in danger of his life, and if then, having no other means of escape, he slay his assailant in self-defense, the homicide is excused.

"But, before proceeding to this extremity, a man ought generally to retreat as far as he safely can; and if two persons quarrel and fight, neither is regarded as defending himself, until he has in good faith fled from the fight as far as he can. Homicide, the result of a blow struck in the mutual flight, however begun, is therefore not usually excusable.”

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