What Is a Double Homicide?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis
A detective may investigate a double homicide.
A detective may investigate a double homicide.

A double homicide is the murder or unlawful death of two victims by one perpetrator. It is typically a description of a circumstance, instead of a formal legal term. A person accused of killing two people will typically be charged with two counts of homicide or murder, rather than with a single charge that combines both deaths.

Homicide is a legal term used to describe the death of one person at the hands of another. Murder is a type of homicide, but homicide may also be a result of negligence, self-defense, or other circumstances. Homicide is not always considered a criminal act and cannot always be prosecuted; there are circumstances in which it may be considered justifiable or excusable. Even double homicide may not always be considered criminal, such as in cases where the perpetrator was having his or her life sincerely threatened by two individuals and killed both out of self defense.

Love triangles can sometimes be linked to double homicide.
Love triangles can sometimes be linked to double homicide.

Double homicide, however, is quite frequently linked to murder, love triangles, and criminal intent. Film, television, and books often use double homicide as a plot device or means of increasing drama, but famous examples abound in real life as well. Double homicide court cases often generate considerable media attention because they are frequently considered crimes of passion, in part due to some cases that involve the death of a spouse or romantic partner and his or her purported lover at the hands of a jilted partner.

A double homicide rarely involves self-defense.
A double homicide rarely involves self-defense.

A double homicide may refer to two victims killed in one location, or two people killed as part of the same action or situation. If a person shoots his or her spouse, then drives over to a supposed lover's house and kills a second victim, this may be considered a double homicide even though the victims were in separate locations. It is important to remember that this generally results in two separate charges, though some regions may have stiffer minimum penalties for a person simultaneously charged with multiple murders.

Double homicide is often linked to murder-suicide situations, in which the perpetrator commits suicide after killing two victims. This may occur due to a realization of the severity of the act, or may be a decision to choose suicide over the possible chance of jail or execution. These unfortunate situations are cause of considerable grief to the families of the victims, as they are prevented from seeking legal justice against the perpetrator.

One interesting legal and ethical debate on the issue concerns how the murder of a pregnant woman can be charged. In a media-frenzied California murder case in 2004, Scott Peterson was found guilty of two murder charges: the first-degree murder of his wife, Laci, and the second-degree murder of their unborn son. The second charge remains an issue of great controversy among legal scholars, as it seems to add life status to fetuses, calling into question the legality of abortion laws.

Is Killing A Pregnant Woman Double Homicide

First, it must be determined if the location actually could declare the fetus's death a homicide. This answer lies within where the law views the life of the child. Babies develop within their mothers' wombs in stages. Because of varying beliefs on creation, some people see early egg fertilization as the start of life. Others perceive it later on when people can hear the heart beating. Thus, different regions have established a range of rulings that consider two factors: is an unborn child a "person," and at what stage is this definition met.

As of now, 38 states have written and passed laws against fetus homicide. Of those, 29 have distinguished within the ruling, indicating that life exists even during gestation and early stages. The National Conference of State Legislatures provides a detailed list of each state's determination. For example, Alabama's code has declared an unborn child a person at any stage or condition. Arizona followed suit, also agreeing that taking an unborn baby's life at any point in growth could be considered a homicide.

While some areas have a broader definition of fetus life, others narrow the window to declare a homicide by life expectancy and circumstance. Massachusetts law narrows the perspective. When a woman is killed in a car accident and is pregnant, the driver who caused the situation can also be charged with the fetus's death. However, that is conditional. The baby must be considered viable outside the womb.

So whether the courts can try a double homicide for a pregnant woman depends entirely on the state legislation. If the system has laws on the books that indicate a developing fetus is a person, then it's more likely that prosecutors could make a case.

Double Homicide Definition

Homicide is the taking of life by someone else. A double homicide happens when another person purposefully or inadvertently kills two people. A team of lawyers looks at the situation's circumstances to declare it a murder. Distinguishing what happened and why it happened leads to the final decision to prosecute.

For instance, if two cars collide on the road. The reporting officers' report becomes imperative. Did the driver at fault fail to follow proper driving rules? Or was this person simply part of unfortunate circumstances? The system could charge a drunk driver for the loss of both individuals. It was a choice to consume alcohol and get behind the car. However, if a deer ran out in the road or the driver suffered a medical emergency that impaired driving, the legal team may decide to waive charges. It is still a double homicide either way. The follow-up is what changes.

How Do Teams Determine if a Double Homicide Is a Murder or Manslaughter?

When a double homicide is more than an accident, the prosecutor's office must determine what types of charges to incur. First, the attorneys work with the officers to review the event. Then, the team decides what they believe suits the crime. This stage isn't the end, though. In some cases, prosecutors must present evidence before a judge or jury. During preliminary hearings, prosecutors share their investigation findings. After weighing the information given, the jury or judge determines if charges are acceptable and appropriate.

It's crucial to weigh the intention and feelings of the accused along with the physical evidence provided. The prosecutor must show malice, desire or intent to harm if charging someone with murder. Thus, the judge and jury should hear more about how the defendant planned to take life or wanted it to happen. In addition, the prosector's office may seek one of three charges of murder: first-degree, second-degree and felony. The levels vary based on the severity of the crime and the circumstances for it occurred. In the case of a double homicide, the courts may give the first-degree charge for someone who commits something heinous. For example, if a father kills his two kids by choice after weeks of planning, the courts may deem it severe enough for a significant charge.

Manslaughter carries a lesser charge. There are various levels, but they all have something in common. This homicide was not deliberate. The prosecutor may seek involuntary, voluntary or vehicular charges. Involuntary implies there was no intention to kill. Voluntary manslaughter, though, is when something happens within the moment. In this situation, someone took life without meaning to do so. That person took like during a period of rage or anger. Something drove the action; however, the accused had no preconceived notions. This crime carries a shorter sentence, usually up to 100 years in prison.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a MyLawQuestions writer.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a MyLawQuestions writer.

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Discussion Comments

Phaedrus

I read the crime reports in my local newspaper every morning, and sometimes there will be a double homicide, mostly because of drug deals gone wrong or a fight that got out of hand. There was one case where an ex-husband found his ex-wife living with her brother and he forced his way into the house. The brother heard screams and came into the living room just as the ex-husband shot his sister.

The brother tried to force the ex-husband out the door, but the man shot him, too. The ex-husband just sat on the lawn and smoked a cigarette while he waited for the police to arrive.

Ruggercat68

I remember we had a notorious double homicide case in our city a few years ago, and the defendant ended up getting the death penalty. He tried to argue self-defense, but the prosecution argued that only one of the victims had any sort of weapon. If he had only been charged with one homicide, he might have been able to convince a jury that his life was in danger.

Since it was a double murder, however, it was harder to prove the second victim was really a threat. The evidence showed that the second man was shot in the back, meaning he was running away from the shooting. A TV reporter talked to some of the jury members after the trial and they said they understood the man's reasons for the first homicide, but they couldn't ignore the intent for the second shooting.

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    • A detective may investigate a double homicide.
      By: Susan McAnany
      A detective may investigate a double homicide.
    • Love triangles can sometimes be linked to double homicide.
      By: Piotr Marcinski
      Love triangles can sometimes be linked to double homicide.
    • A double homicide rarely involves self-defense.
      By: hues
      A double homicide rarely involves self-defense.