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Homicide -- is it ever justifiable?
In order to understand any kind of criminal behavior, it is often important to consider the social, psychological and biological perspectives. Homicide, which refers to the killing of one human being by another, has its own perspectives. According to legal terms, homicide is the unnatural ending of the life of a person by an act or omission of another person or persons knowingly or otherwise. When a person commits such an act, his motives and purpose determines the criminal nature of the act. A homicide becomes a criminal act if it is done with an intention to harm or with disregard for the safety of the others. However, there are instances when homicide is justifiable. Justifiable homicide depends on the various reasons for such an act to have happened. Before concluding such a statement, it is necessary to find out the various types of homicide and the psychological aspects of the behavior.
Homicide is the killing of any human being. According to law, there are three types of homicides. They include felonious homicide, excusable homicide and justifiable homicide. Felonious homicide includes killing a human being without any justification or cause. For example, a person might kill the other without malice. Such unlawful killing might happen voluntarily or involuntarily. Murder, on the other hand, refers to the killing of human beings with complete understanding. This is considered to be the highest degree of homicide and is committed with deliberate malice.
A homicide becomes excusable when the killing happens accidentally, without any intention or fault. Similarly, an act is excusable when it is done as a self-defense. A person kills the other when he has no other way of defending himself. Such an act is considered self-defense and is excusable according to law.
The only circumstance where a homicide is justifiable is when it is done by a person whose duty is to take the life of another person. The best example of such justifiable homicide includes the killing by police officers who work for the welfare of the community. When a sheriff, based on the order of the court, executes the sentence and takes the life of the person who is ordered to be executed.
While such deliberations relate to the legal profession, homicide is also considered justifiable even in a private situation. A justifiable homicide in a private nature occurs when a person kills another person who tries to commit a robbery or a murder. It is also justifiable when he or his servants, kill those who try to burn the house. Such instances are considered justifiable, provided, there is an apparent necessity to murder. The person who commits the crime should not have any fault upon him. Only then, this kind of homicide is considered justifiable.
In a psychological point-of-view, there are certain areas that should be considered to determine if a homicide is justifiable. The cognitive aspects of any behaviour helps us determine the nature of the crime. It is often believed that the person who has committed homicide has decreased level of moral reasoning, inadequate decision making skills and disturbing attitudes (Hollin, 1989).
Moral reasoning develops subsequently in any individual as he attains maturity. An offender has a delayed development of moral reasoning. He or she does not have the internal mechanisms that help to control and resist the temptation. In addition to having varying levels of reasoning they also tend to fluctuate in their own level on different problems (Hollin, 1989).
Decision making is also a very important cognitive aspect that needs to be considered in a homicide to determine whether it is justifiable or not. For a crime to happen, a person is faced with the opportunity to commit it. The 'criminal' is the one who takes advantage of this opportunity. The offender considers the risks and consequences of his offending and then commits the offence. In homicide, the decision that the person takes highly determines the nature of the crime and helps in figuring out if it was deliberate or justifiable.
According to researchers, there are three stages of moral reasoning and decision making. They include (1) preconventional (2) conventional and (3) post conventional. In the preconventional stage, decisions and reasoning are based on the threat of punishment. In homicide situations, an adult may try to resist the temptation to exceed the limit for fear of being caught or punished. In conventional stage, a person considers certain behaviour to be right or wrong depending on whether the existing conventions that are in the form of law define it (Cassel & Bernstein, 2007).
Those in the post conventional stage base their reasoning and moral decisions not on what the custom or law says but on their own set of principles and values. These people are considered to be either above or beyond law. It is believed that those people who have preconventional stage of moral reasoning are likely to commit more crime especially homicide than those who view law as something that is valuable for the society.
Moral reasoning and decision making has its roots in childhood. A person's moral development is greatly influenced by what he or she observes as a child. It depends on what the child has learnt from watching people. If, as a child, a person has not seen his parents or parental figures abiding the law, then they are more likely to be susceptible to break law (Cassel & Bernstein, 2007).
Children are said to be in the preconventional stage of moral reasoning and decision making. They tend to choose or avoid an act or behavior based on the punishment they might get. Youngsters are found to be in the conventional stage where they internalize beliefs, values, rules, law by respecting people and institutions. If they have not developed respect for laws as laws and not as rules that help to avoid punishment, they are likely to avoid criminal behaviors for fear of punishment. This poses the possibility of committing crime when there is a possibility to avoid punishment (Cassel & Bernstein, 2007).
While deciding whether a particular homicide is justifiable, it is necessary to understand the reasoning and decision making levels of the accused. A person who commits a felony will likely be in the preconventional stage of reasoning. He would have witnessed people commit similar crimes and got away with that. In that case, he would be very sure of the consequences of such crime and would have committed it with complete awareness (Walker & Shaprio, 2003).
It is possible to identify a criminal with the others based on certain psychological and social aspects. For example, a psychopath is a person who shows a distinct pattern of psychological, social, cognitive, interpersonal and neuro physiological characteristics that distinguish him from the rest (Bartol & Bartol, 2010). He commits a crime which includes murder, with an intention to harm others. Since his crime is repeated it is not possible to justify his crime.
However, when an officer in-charge of the welfare of the community indulges in a shooting spree, it is justifiable, provided there is enough evidence to prove so. For example, army personnel murder those who attack the community thereby disrupting the safety of the people. They are not considered felonious criminals since they are destined to do so. When such an act is done by a person who does not have any right or duty to take the lives of the people, he is said to be committing felonious homicide (Ripley & Anna, 1860).
The verdict against homicide differs from country to country, considerably. What is considered a felony in the United States of America, may not be so in another country. For example, when a person murders others in the name of religion, power or any other social reasons, he is considered to be a criminal in most countries. However, when such a deed is committed in most of the Muslim countries, it may not be considered punishable.
Terrorism is a homicide that results in serious punishments. When a person or a group targets a vulnerable group and murders innocent victims, then they are said to have been engaged in homicide. Their acts are punishable by law and sometimes destined to severe sentences.
In most of the Muslim countries like Afghanistan, Iran, etc., when a person decides to take the life of many people in the name of religion, his act is not considered to be felonious. He is, in contrary, widely acknowledged and appreciated as a martyr, who has every right to take away the lives of those that threaten their religion. This is one of the reasons why most terrorists are encouraged and safeguarded in certain countries, even though the world stands against them.
Yet another concept that differentiates those who commit felony and those whose behavior is justifiable is the so called Classical Criminology. The central idea behind this theory is that individuals engage in a process of calculative rational decision making that helps to choose how to…[continue]
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