The definition of voluntary manslaughter under federal law is the unlawful killing of a human being upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion. Typically, this means that the defendant had no prior intent to kill.
Voluntary manslaughter is a lesser-included charge of murder. So, when a prosecutor brings a murder charge, the jury can find the defendant guilty of voluntary manslaughter without the prosecutor having to bring those charges.
The definition of voluntary manslaughter varies from state to state. However, for a murder charge to be reduced to voluntary manslaughter, you need to show there was a sudden quarrel or heat of passion. Generally, in order for a murder charge to be reduced to voluntary manslaughter, four elements must be met:
A heat of passion killing refers to a murder in which the circumstances would have caused a reasonable person to become unable to control their actions. For example, let’s say you came home and discovered your spouse in bed with another person. In that situation, you lose control and kill the third person. If the required elements are met, you may face a voluntary manslaughter charge rather than a murder charge.
Ordinarily, heated words alone are not enough to mitigate murder to voluntary manslaughter. The provocation needs to be an action aimed specifically at you.
Minor battery is also generally not enough. However, if the battery is violent and causes you great pain, the provocation may be adequate to charge you with voluntary manslaughter.
Assault attempts that are severe, such as an attempt to shoot you, can be enough to mitigate a murder charge to voluntary manslaughter.
In some states, such as California, the concept of imperfect self-defense can also reduce a charge from murder to voluntary manslaughter. To use this defense you must show:
However, in imperfect self-defense cases, one of these beliefs is unreasonable.
Imagine that you live home alone and hear someone moving in the next room. When the intruder begins to move towards your room and attempts to open the door, you use a gun to shoot through the door, killing them. This case may be considered imperfect self-defense since it is unreasonable to shoot through the door without knowing who was on the other side or what their intentions were.
The exact penalty you can get for a voluntary manslaughter conviction depends on a number of factors. These include:
To determine what penalty is appropriate, judges usually look into aggravating and mitigating factors. Some of these include:
If you are convicted under federal law, you could be facing prison for not more than ten years, fines, or both.
If you have been charged with murder or voluntary manslaughter, you should talk to an attorney right away. An experienced criminal defense attorney can evaluate your case, negotiate on your behalf and present the best defense for your case.
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified voluntary manslaughter lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local voluntary manslaughter attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.