Justifiable Homicide – the killing of another person in self-defense, to prevent a crime or a criminal’s escape, or as execution for a capital crime

     This page is continued from Criminal Law Self-Help >>>> Various Crimes and Corresponding Laws >>>> Various Forms of Homicide >>>> Forms of Noncriminal Homicide:


justifiable homicide (18c) 1. The killing of another in self-defense when faced with the danger of death or serious bodily injury. — aka excusable homicide.

2. A killing mandated or permitted by the law, such as execution for a capital crime or killing to prevent a crime or a criminal’s escape. [1]

1. A homicide committed in self-defense or intentionally in carrying out a legal duty as, for EXAMPLE, a police officer who kills an armed robber during the course of a robbery. [3]

     Excerpt from J.W. Cecil Turner’s Kenny’s Outlines of Criminal Law (16th ed. 1952):

     “It should be noted that a justifiable homicide is not criminal, since it is a killing which the law has either commanded or permitted: the actus in such a case is not legally punishable, and therefore we may perhaps say that it is an actus of killing which is not reus.  As we shall see in most cases of justifiable homicide, the killing is intentional, and therefore the mental element of criminal responsibility is clearly present: but there is no crime committed since there is no actus reus. [4]

     Except from H.L.A. Hart’s “Prolegomenon to the Principles of Punishment,” in Punishment and Responsibility (1968):

     “English lawyers once distinguished between ‘excusable’ homicide (e.g. accidental non-negligent killing) and ‘justifiable’ homicide (e.g. killing in self-defence or in the arrest of a felon) and different legal consequences once attached to these two forms of homicide.  To the modern lawyer this distinction has no longer any legal importance: he would simply consider both kinds of homicide to be cases where some element, negative or positive, required in the full definition of criminal homicide (murder or manslaughter) was lacking. But the distinction between these two different ways in which actions may fail to constitute a criminal offence is still of great moral importance.  Killing in self-defence is an exception to a general rule making killing punishable; it is admitted because the policy or aims which in general justify the punishment of killing (e.g. protection of human life) do not include cases such as this. In the case of ‘justification’ what is done is regarded as something which the law does not condemn, or even welcomes. [5]

Terms pertaining to
Assessing Whether or Not
a Homicide is Justifiable:

homicide se defendendo – The killing of a human being in self-defense. [2] 

Rules of Self-Defense – justifiable or unjustifiable?

  • retreat rule – unless at home or at work, a victim of assault generally has a duty to retreat instead of using deadly force, so long as there is a safe avenue of escape. — aka rule of retreat; duty to retreat; retreat to the wall.

homicidium ex necessitate – Homicide from inevitable necessity, such as protecting one’s person or property.

homicidium ex justitia – Homicide in the administration of justice, or in the carrying out of a legal sentence. [1]


no-retreat rule (1973) Criminal law. A doctrine in many states allowing the victim of a threat to use force, sometimes including lethal force, against an invader or attacker even if the victim could avoid the need for it by running away or otherwise retreating.  *  Some versions of the rule allow victims this privilege when in their homes; some allow it whenever a victim is threatened with an assault. [1]

     Excerpt from People v. Ross, 155 Cal. App. 4th 1033,1044 (2007):

     “California belongs to the majority of jurisdictions with a ‘[n]o [r]etreat [r]ule,’ under which the victim of an assault is under no obligation to ‘retreat to the wall’ before exercising the right of self-defense, but is entitled to ‘stand his ground.” [6]

stand-your-ground law (2006) A statute providing that a potential victim of a crime need not retreat before responding with force in self-defense to a threat, even if flight is possible.  *  The stand-your-ground law immunizes the actor against civil suits and criminal charges when force was used justifiably in self-defense.

castle doctrine (1892) Criminal law. An exception to the retreat rule allowing the use fo deadly force by a person who is protecting his or her home and its inhabitants from attack, especially from a trespasser who intends to commit a felony or inflict serious bodily harm. — aka dwelling defense; defense of habitation. [1]

1. The doctrine that a person may use whatever force is required to defend his home and those in it.  The principle derives its name from the maxim that “a man’s home is his castle. [3]


Disclaimer: All material throughout this website is compiled in accordance with Fair Use.

[1]: Black’s Law Dictionary Deluxe Tenth Edition by Henry Campbell Black & Editor in Chief Bryan A. Garner. ISBN: 978-0-314-62130-6

[2]: Ballantine’s Law Dictionary with Pronunciations
Third Edition
 by James A. Ballantine (James Arthur 1871-1949).  Edited by William S. Anderson.  © 1969 by THE LAWYER’S CO-OPERATIVE PUBLISHING COMPANY.  Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 68-30931

[3]:  Ballantine’s Law Dictionary Legal Assistant Edition
by Jack Ballantine 
(James Arthur 1871-1949).  Doctored by Jack G. Handler, J.D. © 1994 Delmar by Thomson Learning.  ISBN 0-8273-4874-6.

[4]: J.W. Cecil Turner, Kenny’s Outlines of Criminal Law 109 (16th ed. 1952).

[5]: H.L.A. Hart, “Prolegomenon to the Principles of Punishment,” in Punishment and Responsibility 1, 13 (1968).

[6]: People v. Ross, 155 Cal. App. 4th 1033,1044 (2007) (citations omitted).


Back to Various Forms of Homicide

Back to Types of Crimes and Corresponding Laws

Back to Criminal Law Self-Help

Home Page

Like this website?

Please Support Our Fundraiser

or donate via PayPal:


Disclaimer: Wild Willpower does not condone the actions of Maximilian Robespierre, however the above quote is excellent!

This website is being broadcast for First Amendment purposes courtesy of

Question(s)?  Suggestion(s)?
We look forward to hearing from you!