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Murder is defined as the illegal killing of another human being without justification or sufficient reason, and more specifically, the unlawful killing of another human being with malice aforethought (i.e., with malice in one's heart). It is possible that this state of mind will differentiate murder from other types of criminal homicide, such as manslaughter, depending on the country in question. Manslaughter is defined as killing that occurs in the absence of malice, as a result of reasonable provocation, or as a result of decreased capacity. A killing that is classified as involuntary manslaughter, when it is recognised, is one in which everything except the most attenuated form of criminal intent, carelessness, is present.

Most cultures regard murder to be an exceedingly severe crime, and as a result, they believe that a person convicted of murder should face heavy penalties for the goals of revenge, deterrence, rehabilitation, or incapacitation after being found guilty. In most nations, a person convicted of murder risks a lengthy jail sentence, maybe even life imprisonment, or even the death penalty.

As a precaution against being accused of defamation, journalists in many countries are normally cautious not to designate a suspect as a murderer in news coverage until the person has been proven guilty in a court of law of murder. When a person is arrested on suspicion of murder, for example, journalists may report that the individual was "arrested on suspicion of murder," or when a prosecutor files charges, they may report that the person is a "accused killer."

Abortion is seen as a kind of murder by those who are opposed to it. In certain nations, a foetus is recognised to be a legal person who may be killed, thus murdering a pregnant mother is considered a double homicide in some countries.