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Culpable Homicide

Culpable Homicide

What is culpable homicide?

Culpable homicide is the legal term for the killing of another individual to which blame can be reasonably assigned to the killer.  In this definition, the killing of the individual happens as a circumstance of dangerous actions, though some jurisdictions make distinctions between intentions and mental state.
What is culpability?

Culpability is the subjective measure of an individual’s level of awareness when committing in certain conduct.   The legal term for culpability is means rea or “guilty mind.”  In terms of homicide, this means that the legal system may make take the mental state of the accused into consideration, with greater severity afforded to intentional homicide.  The Model Penal Code, a codified version of the American legal code, defines culpability in the following subdivisions:
  • Purposely – The individual committing the crime is not only aware of his or her actions, but also hoping that his actions will result in illegal activity.  In this case, an individual may purposely engage in harmful conduct towards another with full knowledge and intent to commit homicide.
  • Knowingly – The individual committing the crime is aware that the situation or his or circumstances will result in illegal activity.  The individual believes that there is a high probability that this outcome will occur and allows it to happen.  This is a slightly less severe state of mind that purposely engage in the act as circumstances and not direct actions or planning by the accused led to the result.
  • Recklessly – A reckless person disregards typical conventions of justifiable conduct and instead engages in actions that deviate from normal members of society.  The law believes that a reckless person knows better and that the behavior that led to the illegal activity, in this case, murder, is not typical behavior for the accused.  For example, a drunk driver is culpable for homicide committed while operating a motor vehicle.  He or she may not have been in a sound state of mind, but this was a temporary condition caused by alcohol consumption.  Since this is a deviation from normal behavior expected of both the individual and society at large, the accused is culpable for his actions that lead to the death of another.
  • Negligently – A negligent person is aware that his or her actions are a danger to others.  The penal code however, notes that the individual should have been aware of the inherent danger in his activity and its possible effect on others.   Therefore, a person that commits negligent homicide is still culpable for his or her actions, even if their intent was not to commit murder.
  • Strict Liability – Strict liability does not factor in the mental state of the accused.  The plaintiff must merely prove that there were damages caused by the accused and that the accused is responsible for said damages.
Source: US Model Penal Code, American Law Institute, 1962