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What Qualifies as a Homicide in Illinois?

Posted by Howard Wise | Nov 30, 2015 | 0 Comments

Homicide is a blanket term that refers to any killing of another human being – not just those that are considered illegal. In very specific circumstances, one person can kill another without committing a crime.

Under Illinois laws, you may use deadly force in self-defense, but only if there is reasonable to believe it's  absolutely necessary “to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm” to yourself or another person. You may also use deadly force to prevent “an assault upon, or offer of personal violence to” yourself or someone else if another breaks into your dwelling. And deadly force is permitted to prevent the intruder from committing a felony within your home.

But when most people talk about homicide, they are referring to homicide crimes. Within this category are a number of more specific criminal charges that are dependent on the circumstances of the crime.

Different Types of Homicide Crimes

The majority of homicides are considered crimes. But the severity of the charge and subsequent punishment will depend heavily on the circumstances surrounding the homicidal act.

First Degree Murder

Under Illinois law, first degree murder is the most serious homicide charge a person can face, and the punishment is usually incredibly severe.

First degree murder occurs under a number of circumstances. Under Illinois law, an individual can be accused of first degree murder if they allegedly kill another without legal justification and:

  • Intended to kill or do great bodily harm to that individual or another
  • Know that their actions will cause death to that individual or another
  • Know that their actions create a strong probability of death or great bodily harm to that individual or another
  • They are committing or attempting to commit a forcible felony other than first degree murder

If convicted of first degree murder, an individual faces a minimum of 20 years in prison, with the maximum sentence of life in prison. Illinois is no longer a death penalty state, so individuals convicted of a first degree murder charge will not face the death penalty.

Second Degree Murder                 

The charge of second degree murder is similar to first degree murder in Illinois, but several mitigating factors surrounding the incident can lead to this less severe (but still very serious) charge.

If the prosecution is able to prove any of the abovementioned qualifications for a first degree murder charge, the duty falls on the defendant to prove any circumstances that may allow for the charge to be reduced to second degree murder.

For this reduced charge, the defendant must prove at the time of the killing:

  • He or she was acting under sudden and intense passion due to being seriously provoked, either by the victim or another person whom the defendant was trying to kill, but instead accidently or carelessly ended up killing the victim
  • He or she believed the killing was lawfully justifiable, but was mistaken in that belief

Second degree murder is a Class 1 felony, punishable by a sentence of 4 to 20 years in prison. There is also a maximum fine of $25,000 and a surcharge of $3,125. Upon release from prison, there is a mandatory two year parole period.


Manslaughter, like the two degrees of murder, involves the unlawful killing of another human being. However, manslaughter is distinguished from murder by the absence of malice. In other words, murder involves the intentional killing of a person, while manslaughter does not.

There are two types of manslaughter in Illinois, voluntary and involuntary.

Involuntary Manslaughter

Also known as reckless homicide, an individual commits involuntary manslaughter when through reckless actions (either legal or illegal) they accidently kill another human being. The acts in question must be likely to cause death or great bodily harm.

For example, a person might commit this crime while driving intoxicated. If a drunk driver killed another individual with his or her car, they may not have intended to kill the victim, but their reckless actions nonetheless were responsible for the death of another.

Involuntary manslaughter is a Class 3 felony, although this charge can be upgraded to a Class 2 felony if certain aggravating factors are present during the commission of the crime.

Aggravating factors might include:

  • If the victim was a peace officer in the course of his or her official duties
  • If the killing occurred on a public street where children were present and a crossing guard was on duty
  • If the victim was a family or household member

Voluntary Manslaughter

Previously, the crime of second degree murder was referred to as voluntary manslaughter. Currently, this charge only applies to unborn children killed under the same circumstances as a second degree murder. This crime is charged as a Class 1 felony.

Homicide charges are some of the most serious you can face. If you have been arrested for a homicide, or believe you are under investigation, you should contact a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer immediately.

About the Author

Howard Wise

A Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney Who Understands Both Sides Few attorneys can claim the diverse experience and history of successful cases of Howard J. Wise. The dedicated and talented Chicago defense attorney began his criminal law journey more than two decades ago, when he began studying a...


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