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.
Free Consultation (562) 308-7807