When you are charged with voluntary manslaughter, it means you killed another person without intent. This happens following a sudden disagreement, in the heat of passion, or you honestly believed that you needed to defend yourself against them, but your belief was unreasonable.
Voluntary manslaughter is severely punished and could earn you a maximum of eleven years of imprisonment. Voluntary manslaughter, as found under PEN 192, is a lesser offense to murder and usually charged in the place of murder in a plea bargain deal.
Almost always, prosecutors will prosecute the offense as murder, which carries steeper penalties. But with an experienced attorney, you can have the charges reduced to PEN 192 violations. Even when it is a plea deal, you need to defend yourself against the allegations and obtain the best outcome. At The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm, we are experienced in criminal law and can help you achieve a favorable outcome.
Defining Voluntary Manslaughter According to the Law
You can face charges of voluntary manslaughter if you:
- Intentionally killed another person, and you had no legal excuse to do it or
- Acted consciously disregarding human life
As earlier mentioned, voluntary manslaughter is a lesser charge to murder. In California, when you murder another person, you will face murder or manslaughter charges. The difference lies in your intentions. In murder, you are charged with the offense if you had malicious aforethought before committing the crime.
Malice or malicious aforethought is considered if you committed the offense with the intention of killing, also known as express malice. Equally, if you acted in wanton disrespect for life, also referred to as implied malice, it is murder. If you kill an unborn child or a person with malicious aforethought, you will be convicted of murder.
But, if an abrupt quarrel erupted and in that heightened emotional state, you killed the person, you did not have malicious aforethought. This is what would reduce your charges from murder to voluntary manslaughter. While defining voluntary manslaughter, specific phrases or terms are used in the statute. Understanding these terms is critical to know the possible charges. These terms or phrases include:
The Heat of Passion or Sudden Quarrel
When an expected, sudden and abrupt quarrel erupts, it can result in the flare-up of emotions referred to as heat of passion. If you kill a person under these circumstances, it is assumed that:
- The person provoked you
- And because of the provocation, you acted fast while consumed with intense emotions that prevented you from sound judgment or reasoning, and
- Any average person would have acted rashly under the same circumstances without reasonable deliberation because of their emotional state
According to PEN 192, the heat of passion is the intense or violent emotion that makes a person act impulsively. However, if you had time to cool off from when you were provoked and when you killed the person, it means you had time to reason, and any action you took was not rushed. In this case, you will face premeditated murder charges and not voluntary murder charges.
For instance, Peter went to the local bar after work for a few drinks. While there, he met Mary, a beautiful blonde, and they struck a conversation. Later, they agreed to go to his place and have sex. Afterward, Mary grabs a pair of scissors and stabs Peter to death.
During her trial, her attorney seeks the voluntary manslaughter charges instead of murder. In the application, the attorney states that Mary was molested by her mother's lovers and traded for sex as a child. As a result, she saw every man as a user and out to violate her. This made her feel the need to protect herself from Peter. Her lawyer would further argue that the act of Peter picking her up for sex provoked her by reminding her of the trauma she suffered as a child.
Although Mary may have suffered childhood trauma and felt provoked by Peter, the sexual act between them was voluntary and does not qualify the heat of passion element. With this argument, Mary will face murder charges and not voluntary manslaughter ones.
When You could Face Voluntary Manslaughter Charges in California
To be charged with voluntary manslaughter or to have the charges against you reduced to this, the offense elements must be evident. Some examples of when you may face voluntary manslaughter charges are:
- You come home without warning and find your wife on your marital bed, having sexual intercourse with another person. The scene provokes you, and with intense anger, you take your gun and shoot them both, and they die. You become emotionally charged because seeing your wife in that position was traumatic to you. The law further recognizes that another reasonable person would also have been provoked by the incident and acted similarly. As you shot them, you had no time to reflect or act reasonably, but you acted out of intense emotions. Your lawyer will have your charges reduced from murder to voluntary manslaughter that carry lesser penalties.
- You are a white female seated with your African American boyfriend in a hotel restaurant. As you enjoy your time, a white male supremacist group confronts you asking you why you are together, and begin to insult you. You and your boyfriend decide to leave, but the aggressors follow you to your vehicle. As you get into your car, some gang members armed with bats start hitting at your car and threatening to kill you and your boyfriend. They continue to hit your vehicle, and one decides to hit your boyfriend. Suddenly, you are scared of your lives, and you remember you have a gun in the car. You pick your weapon and shoot at them, killing two. The situation or the behavior of the gang provoked you and caused you to fear for your lives. You had no time to reason, and any other person would have reacted the same. The prosecutor, given the offense's circumstances, will not charge you with murder but voluntary manslaughter.
- Another example of when you would face voluntary murder charges instead of murder is when you come home and find your son lying in blood. You proceed to call the police and for help, but you ask your son what happened as you wait. The boy narrates how his uncle, your brother, came over, raped him, and tried to kill him to prevent the boy from saying what happened. Your brother happens not to live very far away from you, and as the emergency personnel attends to your son, you take your gun and go to his house, shooting him to death. In this case, you were provoked, and any reasonable person would have reacted similarly. If you receive murder charges, your lawyer can argue them down to those of voluntary manslaughter instead.
Penalties for Violating PEN 192 – Voluntary Manslaughter
Although the offense is charged as a plea bargain when a person is faced with murder charges, it is still a serious felony crime. If you are convicted of the offense, you will face state incarceration for three years, six or eleven. However, if you face murder charges instead, the state imprisonment sentence is not less than fifteen years, with a possibility of life imprisonment.
Other penalties you could face for this offense include:
- A possible strike according to the three-strikes law. A strike works to enhance any penalties you receive in the future for any felony you commit
- A cash fine not above $10,000
- You lose the privilege of having or owning a gun according to PEN 29800
- Counseling for anger management and
- Other conditions as found suitable by the court
Defenses for Violating PEN 192 – Voluntary Manslaughter
If you are faced with voluntary manslaughter charges, you have a right to legal representation where you defend yourself against the allegations. Your attorney will study your case, interview you, and witnesses to the offense, if any, to formulate defense strategies. Because the prosecutor must prove the various elements or facts of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, your lawyer will work to create doubt in the prosecutor's case. If the jury has doubts in the prosecutor's case, the charges against you may be dismissed. Some defenses your lawyer can use include:
Self-defense, Defense of Others or Imperfect Self-defense
The laws on self-defense in California justify the killing of another person to preserve yourself or others from:
- The danger of being killed
- Sustaining significant bodily harm
- Being maimed, robbed, raped, or a victim of other atrocious or forcible crimes
According to these laws, when you are faced with any of the above situations or another person is, you can use any necessary means to protect yourself or them from harm.
For instance, in the earlier example, you are accosted by white supremacists, and they attack your gay African American lover. When they started hitting you with a bat, you became scared for your lives and shot them with your gun. As a result, you kill two of them, and voluntary manslaughter charges are leveled against you. Under these circumstances, the laws on self-defense will understand your conduct and excuse it.
Imperfect self-defense, on the other hand, can be used if you killed another person because:
- You reasonably believed you or the other person was at risk of being significantly injured and
- That you needed to use deadly force to protect you or them from the danger, but
- One or more of the beliefs were not reasonable
When the imperfect defense is used, it does not exonerate the criminal liability against you compared to self-defense. But, it mitigates against the offense of murder and has you charged with involuntary manslaughter.
For instance, in the same example as above, the aggressor, in this case, is not white supremacists but your ex-boyfriend. When he finds you with your boyfriend in a restaurant, he begins to taunt him and challenges him to fight for you. Although he has no weapon, he is significantly larger than your current boyfriend, and you panic that he will harm your lover. To protect your lover, you pick a sharp object, stab your ex-lover, and kill him.
Based on this, your boyfriend may have received injuries, but you unreasonably believed that there was a need to use deadly force to protect them from the danger. Your attorney can use imperfect self-defense to have murder charges dropped, and instead, voluntary manslaughter charges are preferred.
This is also another legal defense if you killed an individual because:
- You cannot differentiate between doing the right thing and the wrong thing
- You cannot comprehend what you did
Your lawyer can use this defense to earn you a not guilty verdict due to insanity with compelling evidence or facts. For instance, if you have been suffering from mental illnesses, your mother's disagreement can trigger you, and you kill her. Out of the frustration of the fight, your mother exclaims that God should take her life. Because of your mental illness and emotional state, you take this to mean you are permitted to kill her.
Although you should face manslaughter charges under the circumstances, an insanity defense can possibly prevail over the charges against you.
You Killed by Accident
If you become charged with voluntary manslaughter, but the death was an accident, you are not guilty of violating PEN 192. However, this defense can only work for you if:
- You didn't have any intentions to cause harm to the victim
- You did not act negligently to result in the death and
- You were not engaged in illegal behavior when you accidentally killed the person
Taking the earlier example, let us assume your ex-boyfriend, after attacking you in the restaurant you decide to leave. You get into your car to drive off but unknown to you; he followed you out. As you drive off, he suddenly jumps in front of your vehicle, and you hit him, and he dies from the injuries. In this case, you did not kill him intentionally but accidentally. Additionally, as you killed him, you were not negligent in your behavior; neither were you involved in illegal activities.
If this is what happened, your lawyer can have the charges of voluntary manslaughter dropped because the death was an accident and not intentional.
Related Offenses to Voluntary Manslaughter
There are multiple offenses related to voluntary manslaughter in California because they also involve illegal killing. Some of these offenses are:
Murder – PEN 187
As earlier stated, the crime of murder is closely related to voluntary manslaughter. In both crimes, the perpetrators have the intention of killing, with the only difference being the presence of malicious aforethought. For you to be guilty of murder, the prosecutor must show that you acted with wanton disrespect for life or planned to kill your victim. Voluntary manslaughter, on the other hand, means that you had not thought of killing the person before or planned for it, but in the spur of the moment, it happened.
Most voluntary manslaughter charges are as a result of a murder crime being reduced. For the reduction, however, there must be sufficient evidence to support that you were provoked or acted in the height of emotions. In some cases, the prosecutor can directly charge you with manslaughter when the offense's circumstances do not support a murder charge.
For instance, you were having dinner with your male friend and decided to walk back to your house. You come across two men that begin taunting you and hauling obscenities against you. As they do that, you ignore them and continue walking home. Upon reaching your home, you decide to confront them and insult them back, but they don't back-up. You enter your house furious, and they walk away. In the heat of your anger, you pick your gun and go back out to confront them.
You brandish the gun and threaten to hurt them if they continue with the insults. One of the men challenges you to shoot them if you are man enough because a gay man is not a man! Suddenly, you are consumed by anger and shoot him at close range.
In this case, the prosecution may feel that a murder charge may not stick and opt to charge you with manslaughter instead. In both crimes, the common element is that a person is killed. However, if a prosecutor charges you with murder, he will have to show your malicious aforethought. If this is impossible to prove, he will charge you with voluntary manslaughter.
Involuntary Manslaughter – PEN 192(b)
You can be charged with involuntary manslaughter or violation of PEN 192(b) if you killed a person:
- Without a malicious aforethought or simple malice
- Without intending to kill them and
- Without consciously disregarding life
Involuntary manslaughter is the accidental killing of another person, and as you did so, you were:
- Committing an illegal act but not one that is considered a felony or
- You were engaged in a legal deed, but it involved a high risk of causing death or significant bodily harm, meaning you may have failed to act cautiously under the circumstances when the person died.
Unlike voluntary manslaughter, you committee involuntary manslaughter while violating the law. If you killed a person as you drove, the act is not charged under involuntary manslaughter but as vehicular manslaughter. The penalties for involuntary manslaughter are less severe with a possible imprisonment sentence for two years, three or four.
This is another offense that is related to voluntary manslaughter. You can face charges if you killed a person when you drove:
- Illegally or unlawfully, but not in a way that amounts to a felonious offense. And you did so without or with gross negligence
- Lawful but unfortunately, death resulted in an unlawful way or
- Knowingly causing an accident to benefit financially or defraud your insurance provider
The offense of vehicular manslaughter is a wobbler, meaning you can face felony or misdemeanor charges, depending on your criminal background and your offense's circumstances. If, in this case, you face felony charges, the penalties include ten-year state imprisonment. A misdemeanor conviction, on the other hand, will earn you a year of county jail imprisonment.
This is another offense related to voluntary manslaughter. You can face charges for this offense if:
- You took one direction or step but failed towards causing death to a person or an unborn child and
- You had every intention of killing the person or the unborn child
The offense is related to voluntary manslaughter. If you are faced with attempted murder charges, your lawyer can persuade the prosecutor to reduce the charges to those of attempted voluntary manslaughter. This can work where the prosecutor has evidence that you planned to kill but lacked the malicious intent element necessary in a murder charge.
For instance, you have been having problems with your wife because you are suspecting, she is unfaithful. Your wife suggests you go to a therapist to discuss your issues. At the therapist's office, you start arguing and disagreeing with your wife. Your therapist interjects and tries to show you where you are wrong. Instead, you feel that he and your wife are ganging up against you, and he supports your wife's alleged cheating.
In the height of emotions, you remove the gun that you had with you and threaten to shoot the therapist. However, he surrenders and apologizes for the misunderstanding and asks you to leave. Still feeling angry, you shoot at the therapist, and fortunately, he does not die. In such a case, the court will presume you never intended to kill the person, but you formed the intention in the height of emotions. In such a case, instead of the harsher charge of attempted murder, your lawyer can persuade the prosecutor for a lesser charge. If this is acceptable, you will face attempted voluntary manslaughter charges instead.
Find a Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me
If you face voluntary manslaughter charges, the penalties you receive if convicted are severe. However, an experienced attorney from The LA Criminal Defense Law Firm can help uncover any hidden evidence that could cast doubts against the prosecutor’s proof. Our criminal defense lawyers could also help to build defenses for a favorable outcome. Call our offices at 310-935-1675 to schedule an appointment and discuss your case further.