Just like murder, manslaughter is also a homicide as it is an unlawful killing of a human being, but it is still considered a lesser crime than murder. Voluntary manslaughter depends on the nature of the incident that caused the death of the other individual. You cannot plead down murder to voluntary manslaughter if you take someone's life while committing another serious offense such as robbery with violence. Voluntary manslaughter is rarely charged as an original charge as one is first accused of murder. Get in touch with us at the Leah Legal, and our experienced Los Angeles criminal defense attorneys can help secure a favorable deal for you by proving your innocence or negotiating a plea on your behalf.
California’s Law on Voluntary Manslaughter
PC 192 defines voluntary manslaughter is generally defined as the intentional taking of another person's life without deliberation, premeditation, or malice aforethought. This means that voluntary manslaughter occurs when an individual takes the life of another person after an adequate provocation, which could have incited a normal person to unexpected and intense passion. Even though the defendant may have decided to kill the victim, it can still be charged as voluntary manslaughter, but not if it was premeditated.
Once you intentionally take the life of an individual or consciously disregard human lives, you can either be charged with murder or voluntary manslaughter. The proof of acting with deliberate malice is what separates the two. Malice aforethought is applied when one acts with the intention of taking someone's life or deliberately neglecting human life.
Elements of Provocation
A charge of voluntary manslaughter needs the provision of evidence that the provocation would be enough to emotionally challenge a normal person in similar circumstances. Voluntary manslaughter is the most common charge in cases that involve uncontrollable emotion or unexpected quarrels leading to death. For this to apply, there has to be the element of provocation. The provocation should have caused the defendant to act with an aggravated passion that clouded his or her judgment. The provocation should be enough to show that a reasonable person would have acted in the manner from emotions and not judgment.
The killing should have taken place within a sensible period after the provocation to prove that the defendant did not have time to cool off. If the difference in time between the event you get provoked and the act of killing is more than enough to have you cool down and come to your senses, then you will most likely face murder charges. In California, there are no set criteria to establish sufficient provocation, but it can not be remote or slight.
The following cases have in the past reduced from homicide to a voluntary manslaughter conviction as it was determined that there was sufficient provocation:
- An individual took someone's life when a group of young people trespassed into his property with weapons and had hostile intent. The mob destroyed the defendant's property and challenged him to a fight. The court determined that there was sufficient provocation as the defendant feared for his life, and in the moment of panicking, he fired some random shots to frighten the mob.
- In a previous case, the defendant physically assaulted and killed a suspect in his brother’s case just a few hours after getting information on the alleged murderer. The court concluded that the defendant acted with uncontrolled emotions as witnesses acknowledged he was extremely distressed when confronting the murder suspect.
In the following cases, the court determined the provocation was insufficient to reduce a murder case to a voluntary manslaughter charge:
- The court concluded that smirking, name-calling, and taunting no matter how offensive would not cause a reasonable person to kill.
- In a previous case, the defendant killed an individual for molesting his daughter, but the act of killing in retaliation happened two days following the molestation. The court determined that it was enough time for the defendant to cool off, and his judgment was not clouded.
- Killing someone while taking part in another crime does not establish sufficient provocation even if the victim was resisting.
Possible Defenses to a Voluntary Manslaughter Charge
An experienced criminal defense attorney can present the following defenses to voluntary manslaughter while representing you:
Imperfect Defense or Self-Defense
Imperfect self-defense happens when a person truly believes that fatal self-defense is justified under the circumstances, but that belief is regarded as unreasonable. Had the self-defense been proportional and reasonable, the killing would have been justified. Under California law, one is permitted to use force in defense of other people or self-defense when a person believes that oneself or another is in inevitable danger, force is necessary to stop the threat, and uses an appropriate level of force in defense. This, however, does not free you from conviction, but it acts as a mitigating factor and can reduce the charges filed against you.
In California, self-defense is justified if you kill another person while trying to defend yourself or some other individual from suffering severe bodily injury, getting killed or being robbed, raped, maimed, or other atrocious crime.
For murder to be excusable or justifiable on account of the defense of another person or self-defense, you must have reasonably thought that you, or other people, were at the risk of getting killed or physically assaulted immediately.
In other words, if you honestly believe that someone is deliberating on killing or harming you in the future, you cannot kill them to keep that from happening and still claim the legal defense of justifiable homicide.
The defense of insanity in California law means that one cannot be found guilty of an offense if they were legally insane when they committed the crime. Under California's insanity defense, you are only considered legally insane if you either did not comprehend the characterization of your act or did not understand that whatever you were doing was morally unacceptable. If your mental state meets the M'Naghten test, it does not matter whether it was a temporary or a permanent condition, or if it lasted for only a few hours.
In cases of misfortune or accident, California criminal law excuses your conduct. This means that if you did not have the intention of harming, you were not neglectful, and you were engaged in legal conduct at the event of the accident, then you should be absolved of any criminal liability.
If death is genuinely an accident, despite the fact that it involves uncontrollable emotion and there is sufficient provocation, the accidental nature completely frees you of criminal liability.
Voluntary Manslaughter Used as a Defense in a Murder Case
It is essential to realize that the offense of voluntary manslaughter can also be a defense in California murder cases.
Your lawyer will have to establish the following if you were initially charged with murder so your charge can be reduced to voluntary manslaughter:
- You had a reasonable incitement of fear or anger as you were provoked, causing you to act under the influence of intense emotion.
- There was insufficient time between provocation and the killing for a reasonable person to calm down.
Sentencing, Penalties, and Punishment
If found guilty of violating PC 192 California's laws on voluntary manslaughter, you face 3, 6, or 11 years in state prison. In comparison, the punishment for committing PC 187 murder is at least 15 years but can extend to a life sentence and could also result in a death penalty.
The Voluntary manslaughter sentence could also result in the following penalties and punishment:
- A possible strike sentence on your criminal record in accordance with California's laws on three strikes which might increase your punishment if you had any prior offenses or any felonies you are convicted for in the future,
- A fine not more than $10,000,
- The loss or reduction of your right to possess or own a firearm in accordance with PC 29800 California's laws on convict with a gun,
- Community restitution or labor services,
- Counseling services including anger management programs, and
- Other conditions set by the court for your rehabilitation.
A judge can take into consideration aggravating and mitigating factors while determining the punishment for a manslaughter sentence. Mitigating factors, more often than not, reduce a sentence. The factors may show that you in no way pose a significant risk to the safety of the public. Usual mitigating factors include your age, lack of a criminal record, admitting responsibility for the offense, or mental capacity.
Aggravating factors most likely increase the severity of a criminal conviction. Courts will often take into consideration factors such as your criminal record, the facts, and the nature of the crime and the vulnerability of the victim.
Offenses Related to Voluntary Manslaughter
The following are some offenses related to California's laws on voluntary manslaughter as they also involve the unlawful taking of life:
PC 187 California's laws on murder and voluntary manslaughter are alike as both offenses involve the intention of taking someone's life. The difference is that in murder, the presence of malice is required, which means a deliberate and voluntary disregard for other people's lives while voluntary manslaughter cases do not.
Although one cannot be charged with more than one homicide for a single crime, a murder charge might be reduced to voluntary manslaughter if there is sufficient evidence of being provoked in a barely emotionally controllable situation.
California's laws on attempted murder are relevant when you perform one or more direct but inefficient act towards taking someone’s life or killing an unborn child, with the intent to kill.
The intent is a required element for an attempted murder charge. For this element to be met, an individual must have made the decision to kill another person, or acted in a way where killing another person was a real possibility based on their reckless actions. In some cases, intent can be a difficult element to prove, and lack of intent is a common defense to attempted murder charges.
California's laws on voluntary manslaughter allow an attempted murder charge to be reduced to attempted manslaughter if your attorney can provide evidence that you had the intention of killing but without malice aforethought.
You can also be charged with PC 192(b) California's laws on involuntary manslaughter when you kill someone without malice, with no intention of killing, and without consciously disregarding an individual's life. Involuntary manslaughter applies to the violation of a misdemeanor only if the misdemeanor legislative act was designed to protect people, or the defendant broke the law in a way that shows neglecting and ignoring the safety of people.
Involuntary manslaughter is different from killing a person by accident as you are participating in either:
- An unlawful act considered a misdemeanor, or
- A legal act with a high risk of severe bodily injury or death where you act without caution.
The accidental killing of a person only applies if you are in no way breaking laws at the moment of the incident.
If found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in California, you may be sentenced to 2, 3, or 4 years in jail. Similarly to voluntary manslaughter, a charge of involuntary manslaughter could be brought by the prosecuting attorney as a lesser crime, along with other related charges.
California's laws on vehicular manslaughter are relevant to scenarios where a motorist drives:
- In an unlawful manner considered a misdemeanor, with evident negligence, during a legal act which could illegally result in death, or
- Deliberately be the cause of the vehicle casualty for financial benefits, which also can be an infringement of California's laws on car insurance fraud.
You are guilty of PC 191.5(b) vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated if your action was out of ordinary carelessness (here, you did not use reasonable caution to prevent predictable injury or death to a person). You behave carelessly when you do either of the following:
- Performing something that a normal and sensible person would not do in a similar circumstance, or
- Failing to carry out an activity that a prudent individual would do in a similar case.
Vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated charges can only stick if your careless conduct causes a person's death.
Under Penal Code 191.5(b), to be convicted of vehicular manslaughter, the death must be a natural, direct, and probable result of your actions.
Vehicular manslaughter is considered a wobbler meaning prosecuting attorneys can charge the case as either a felony or a misdemeanor. If found guilty of a felony charge of vehicular manslaughter in California, you may be sentenced to a minimum of 2 years and a maximum of 10 years in state prison. Also, if found guilty of a misdemeanor charge of vehicular manslaughter in California, you may receive a jail term of not more than one year.
If the motorist were accused of concurrently violating California's laws on DUI, the prosecuting attorney would likely file a case either on:
- PC 191.5 California's laws on negligent vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated. Under California PC 191.5, the crime of vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated occurs when a defendant both commits a California DUI and engages in some additional negligent behavior while driving, and as a result, another person is killed.
- PC 191.5 California's laws on gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated: Gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated under P C 191.5(a) occurs when a defendant commits both California DUI and a grossly negligent act, and as a result, another person is killed.
- 2nd degree DUI murder, which is also referred to as Watson murder.
Prosecuting attorneys are likely to charge you with a case of Watson murder if you face consistent charges with DUI and kill an individual while intoxicated. For those aware of the Watson advisement when being convicted, they are most likely to be charged with DUI manslaughter as they have knowledge of the risks of driving while intoxicated.
The Watson warning states that it is exceedingly risky to human lives to operate a vehicle while intoxicated. It also clearly warns that if you end someone’s life while intoxicated, California prosecuting attorneys may file a murder case against you.
The difference between this offense and a 1st-degree murder charge is that for a 2nd degree DUI murder case, the intention of killing a person cannot be shown. If found guilty, you may face a similar punishment imposed in relation to a 2nd-degree murder conviction, that is, a minimum of 15 years up to a maximum life sentence in the California state prison.
Contact a Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Facing a voluntary murder charge can be extremely difficult as you might be uncertain on how to proceed, that is why we are here to evaluate the facts of your case and figure out applicable defenses. Get in touch with us at the Leah Legal, and our experienced criminal defense lawyers can provide tenacious representation throughout your case and fight hard for your freedom. We represent clients in Los Angeles, so call us today at 818-484-1100, and we can help you resume your life by proving your innocence or dismissal of the charges.