Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Justifiable Homicide Definition:

The blameless killing of another human being.

Related Terms: Homicide, Self-Defence, Felonious Homicide, Excusable Homicide, Per Infortunium

William Blackstone postulated that homicide was of three varieties, justifiable homicide, excusable homicide and felonious homicide.

Today, those distinctions still exist albeit with different terminology in many common law jurisdictions. Some refer to murder to a 1st, 2nd or 3rd degree.

Others distinguish between culpable homicide and not culpable homicide.

Justifiable homicide is where the individual committing the act knows full well that death will ensue but the act is done in the performance of a legal duty.

Blackstone defined justifiable homicide as follows:

“Such as is owing to some unavoidable necessity, without any will, intention, or desire, and without any inadvertence or negligence, in the party killing, and therefore without any shadow of blame. As, for instance, by virtue of such an office as obliges one, in the execution of public justice, to put a malefactor to death who has forfeited his life by the laws and verdict of his country.”

In the 1908 Mozley and Whiteley’s Law Dictionary, the authors describe three varieties of justifiable homicide:

  • “The putting a man to death pursuant to a legal sentence;
  • "The killing, by an officer of justice, of a person who assaults or resists him, and cannot otherwise be taken; and
  • "The killing of persons for the dispersion of riots or rebellious assemblies, or the prevention of atrocious crimes, such as murder and rape.”


  • Duhaime, Lloyd, Criminal Law
  • Duhaime, Lloyd, Murder!
  • West, L. And Neave, F., Mozley and Whiteley’s Law Dictionary, 3rd Ed. (London: Butterworth & Co., 1908), page 161

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