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Voluntary Manslaughter

The crime of voluntary manslaughter in California is defined under PEN 192(a). The offense involves ending another person’s life during an abrupt quarrel, in the heat or height of emotions, referred to as passion, or when you honestly but unreasonably believe you needed to defend yourself or others. The distinction between this offense and murder is premeditation. If you had planned to kill the person all along, it is murder. However, if that thought never crossed your mind but suddenly, based on the circumstances, you kill them, it is voluntary manslaughter.

Even when you never planned to kill a person but you did, it is a serious violent crime severely punished in California. Typically, voluntary manslaughter carries a lesser sentence than murder, so often it is used in plea bargain deals where a defendant is faced with a murder charge. If you are accused of murder, you need an experienced attorney to navigate the system and have your charges reduced or dismissed altogether. At Long Beach Criminal Attorney, we have defended many people accused of this crime in Long Beach, California, and can represent you for a favorable outcome.

Defining Voluntary Manslaughter and the Crime’s Elements

Many situations occur where a person intentionally kills someone, but the offense is not categorized as murder according to PEN 187. In these situations, the killing might have been deliberate, but because there was no malicious aforethought, it is not murder. If this is the case, the perpetrator of the offense faces voluntary manslaughter charges and not murder. Sometimes, a person’s actions may be with disregard to human life, and they cause death. In such cases as well, the person can face voluntary manslaughter charges in California.

Malice aforethought, which is the distinction between murder and voluntary manslaughter, means that you intended to kill, known as express malice, or acted with gross disregard of life, known as implied malice. For instance, if you plan to kill a fetus or a person, your actions are malicious aforethought. Here, the prosecutor will charge you with murder. However, suppose you begin to argue with another person, and you decide to kill them at the peak or height of emotions. In that case, it is a lesser offense because you had no malicious aforethought. This is the reason that murder charges against you can reduce to voluntary manslaughter.

As earlier stated, it is common for the prosecutor to charge you with murder before the charges are reduced to voluntary manslaughter. This is one of the critical reasons you should have an attorney represent you when faced with these allegations. However, an accusation does not mean an automatic conviction. The prosecutor must determine several elements of the offense for a guilty verdict. These are the same elements your lawyer will formulate a defense to dispute in court. The aspects that must be proven in court for voluntary manslaughter include:

  • You committed deeds that resulted in the death of the person or victim
  • When you acted, you unlawfully intended to kill the person
  • When you killed the person, you had not planned it before, or you had no malicious aforethought
  • Your actions had no legal reason or justification

You can also be charged with voluntary manslaughter if:

  • You intentionally or deliberately committed a deed that resulted in the other person’s death
  • Naturally, the repercussions of your deeds are dangerous to people
  • When you committed the acts, you knew they were dangerous to people
  • Your actions were deliberate in disregarding human life
  • You had no legal justification or excuse for your actions

An example of voluntary manslaughter would be when your wife comes home and finds you in bed with her best friend and kills her out of anger. The present circumstances triggered her actions, and in the height of passion and argument, she hits her friend, and unfortunately, she dies. Because the killing was not with malicious aforethought or wasn’t planned before, your wife will face voluntary manslaughter charges and not murder.

Another classic example would be during a hunting trip. You and your friends go hunting, and you set camp at night to continue in the morning. Before sleeping, you decide to drink alcohol, and all of you are drunk. You know there are dangerous animals in the woods, and you each have your rifles next to you. As you sleep, you hear a commotion in the woods, and without thinking, you imagine it is a dangerous animal, and you shoot. Unfortunately, it is one of your hunting friends that has walked to the woods. In this case, the prosecutor will not charge you with murder but voluntary manslaughter.

The prosecutor can prove you killed a man, and your actions resulted in their death. Additionally, your actions were with disregard for life because the deed was dangerous. However, you never acted with wanton or gross disregard as is required in proving a murder charge.

While defining the crime of voluntary manslaughter, the law uses heat or height or passion or sudden quarrel. These are essential elements to be present for you to be charged with voluntary manslaughter. Killing a person under these circumstances means:

  • You felt provoked
  • Because of the provocation, you acted unreasonably under intense emotions that prevented you from sound judgment or reasoning and
  • Any average person faced with a similar push would have acted unreasonably without reason as they will think with their emotions and not a sound mind

According to PEN 192(a), the heat of passion is when you experience intense or violent emotions that cause you to take impulsive action. If you felt provoked and the time you killed, you had sufficient time to calm down and regain your composure and reason, you may be charged with murder and not voluntary manslaughter.

However, the courts do not define the amount of provocation required to prove voluntary manslaughter. But, they have stated that the impulse must not be remote or slight. According to the courts, the provocation must be significant such that any other average person under similar circumstances would react illogically due to emotions.

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Legal Defenses for Voluntary Manslaughter Charges

As earlier stated, in most cases, when you are accused of killing a person, the prosecutor will prefer murder charges against you. However, if the killing was not premeditated, your experienced attorney can prove this and negotiate to reduce your charges to voluntary manslaughter. The penalties and other consequences upon a conviction are nevertheless steep, making it critical to fighting the charges against you.

Having a lawyer represent you is critical for a favorable outcome. Your attorney will first study the prosecutor’s case and the evidence they have against you. Next, your lawyer will carry out an independent and unbiased investigation to establish the circumstances that led to your killing the person. Your lawyer will also run a background check on you and talk to people you associate with to show your character, essential in court.

Your attorney will formulate strategic defenses that are critical to your defense and present them to court from their findings. Some of the defense strategies commonly used include:

Self-defense or that of others or imperfect self-defense

The statute on self-defense in California justifies a person to kill another to protect themselves or others from:

  • Being murdered
  • Sustaining significant bodily injuries
  • Being maimed, raped, or a victim of atrocious and forcible offenses

Under these laws, you can take any action you find necessary to prevent you or others from being harmed.

For instance, let us use the earlier example where your wife finds you in bed with her friend. If she goes to the drawer during the exchange of words, she picks a gun to shoot both of you. You struggle to take the gun from her, but it accidentally goes off, hitting her instead. Even after the paramedics take her to the hospital, she succumbs to the injuries from the gunshot. The prosecutor might charge you with murder but based on the circumstances, you never planned to shoot her, and the gun went off accidentally as you were trying to protect yourself and the other lady from harm.

If your lawyer establishes these circumstances to the court’s satisfaction, the court will excuse your actions.

Imperfect self-defense is slightly different from self-defense or that of others. You may have caused the death of a person because:

  • You had reason to believe that you or others were in inevitable danger of significant hurt or death
  • You felt using deadly force was the only way to defend yourself or others from the threat, but
  • One or more of these beliefs was unjustifiable or unreasonable

The above circumstances are what constitute imperfect self-defense. However, these do not excuse you from the crime’s liability. But, your lawyer can argue this to have your murder charges reduced to voluntary manslaughter instead.

The Insanity Defense

This would be a common defense for voluntary manslaughter charges, especially if you killed a person and:

  • Did not understand what our actions can do, and/or
  • You are incapable of distinguishing right from wrong

Under these circumstances, the court can find you not guilty due to insanity.

The killing was an Accident

A person can be killed by accident. If you accidentally killed a person, your lawyer can use this as your defense, and you will be found innocent of violating PEN 192(a). Your attorney can use this defense only when:

  • You never had the criminal intention of harming the victim
  • Your actions when the accident occurred were not negligent and
  • The activity you engaged in was lawful when the accident occurred

For instance, you are at a bar, and a patron picks a fight with you. You ignore them and decide to leave the bar with your friend. Unfortunately, the angry patron follows you out to continue with the argument and throws a punch at you. In retaliation, you hit him back, and because he is drunk, he stumbles and falls, injuring his head severely. Despite going to the hospital, the injuries sustained result in his death.

Here, although your actions caused the death and you threw a punch back because of the provocation, the court can absorb you from the liability of the death. This means that you are not guilty of murder or voluntary manslaughter.

Penalties for Voluntary Manslaughter

Voluntary manslaughter is severely punished though less harshly compared to murder. If convicted for this offense, the minimum prison time is three years, with a maximum of eleven years at the state prison. A murder conviction, in comparison, carries a steeper penalty. The minimum incarceration time is fifteen years, and the maximum is life imprisonment. Worse, a murder conviction can also result in your execution.

The steep penalties for a murder charge make it critical to have an experienced attorney who understands how to investigate the offense and navigate the system to reduce the charges. If your original charges were murder, having the charges dropped to Voluntary manslaughter is one of the best outcomes for the crime.

Besides the state prison time of 3 or 6 or 11 years, a conviction on voluntary manslaughter charges can trigger other penalties or punishments that include:

  • You can earn a strike according to the three-strikes law of California. When you acquire a strike, it means any future convictions on felony charges will earn you an enhanced sentence.
  • The judge will order you to pay a fine of $10,000 or less.
  • You will lose your gun privileges under PEN 29800, where convicted felons are prohibited from owning guns.
  • The judge may order you to participate in community service.
  • The judge can order you to attend counseling for anger management.
  • Any other terms the judge finds logical concerning the offense.

Related Crimes to Voluntary Manslaughter

When a crime is related to another, it can be charged alongside or instead of the primary offense. Voluntary manslaughter has several crimes related to it in California. These include:

  • Murder – PEN 187: This offense is closely related to voluntary manslaughter, as earlier discussed, with the difference being malicious aforethought.
  • Attempted murder: This is when you have every intention to kill a person, and you take deliberate but ineffective action towards killing them.
  • Involuntary manslaughter – PEN 192(b): If you had no malice, did not intend to murder, and you did not consciously disregard the life of the person, the prosecutor can prefer these charges against you.

Find a Lawyer Near Me

Being charged with murder is something you should take very seriously, and a conviction alters your life for a long time, if not forever. These charges are not to be taken lightly, and you need solid defense for you to prevail against the court and have a favorable outcome. At Long Beach Criminal Attorney, we have represented many defendants facing similar charges to a favorable outcome and can represent you or your loved one as well. Call our office at 562-308-7807, and we can set up an appointment to discuss your case further.