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Understanding Oklahoma's Homicide Laws

When the death of one individual is caused by another it is always a tragedy, but it is NOT always considered murder or manslaughter. Let's take a look a the different types of homicide charges in the state of Oklahoma.

Negligent Homicide

It is common to reference the same crime in more than one way. Negligent homicide is one such example. Oklahoma’s negligent homicide laws are often referred to as “vehicular manslaughter” laws due to the fact that they are found in the same area of the Oklahoma Statutes as other motor vehicle-related offenses.

Furthermore, the actual negligent homicide statute found in the motor vehicle chapter of the Oklahoma Statutes only contemplates a situation in which a human dies as a result of another person driving a vehicle in a way which would infer a reckless disregard for the safety of others.

The death which leads to a negligent homicide charge does not have to result immediately from the crash or wreck caused by the reckless driver.

Oklahoma law allows for someone to be charged with negligent homicide so long as the death ensues within one (1) year as the proximate cause of the injury which initially resulted from the reckless driving.

That means, even if someone does not die on impact, there is still a one (1) year period that has to pass before the reckless driver can escape a negligent homicide charge.

Interestingly, a motor vehicle is not required for a negligent homicide charge. If a person is sixteen (16) years or older and operated any type of vessel (boat, jet ski, etc.) in a manner evidencing a reckless disregard for others, that person can also be charged with negligent homicide if another person is killed, and the death is a proximate cause of injuries sustained as a result of the reckless operation.

Any person convicted of, or who pleads guilty to, negligent homicide will only be guilty of a misdemeanor. The punishment for the offense includes up to a year in county jail and a fine of $1000.00 dollars.

Excusable Homicide

Some deaths do not result in criminal liability whatsoever. These instances are referred to as “excusable” homicides. Excusable homicide happens:

  1. When committed by accident and misfortune in doing any lawful act, by legal means, with usual and ordinary caution, and without any unlawful intent.
  2. When committed by accident and misfortune in the heat of passion, upon any sudden and sufficient provocation, or upon a sudden combat provided that no undue advantage is taken, nor any dangerous weapon used, and that the killing is not done in a cruel or unusual manner.

As you can see, this doctrine centers around situations in which there is no intent to kill and the death is not a result of negligence or reckless disregard for the safety of others.

In cases of excusable homicide, the person who caused the death of the other is held harmless, and no criminal charges should be filed.

Justifiable Homicide

Justifiable homicide is not the same as excusable homicide. A justifiable homicide occurs when a person uses lethal force to protect him or another. Instances of justifiable homicide occur:

  1. When resisting any attempt to murder such person, or to commit any felony upon him, or upon or in any dwelling house in which such person is; or,
  2. When committed in the lawful defense of such person, or of his or her husband, wife, parent, child, master, mistress, or servant, when there is a reasonable ground to apprehend a design to commit a felony, or to do some great personal injury, and imminent danger of such design being accomplished; or,
  3. When necessarily committed in attempting, by lawful ways and means, to apprehend any person for any felony committed; or in lawfully suppressing any riot; or in legally keeping and preserving the peace.

Justifiable homicide usually happens when someone is using self-defense. This carries true for situations in which persons are protecting themselves or others. It does not apply when a person is merely trying to protect their property. In order to use lethal force in a justified manner, a person needs to be in reasonable fear that their life is actually in danger.

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