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Voluntary Manslaughter: Sentencing and Penalties

Key Takeaways:

  • Voluntary manslaughter is an intentional killing done in the heat of passion. 
  • Voluntary manslaughter is usually a lesser included offense to murder charges.
  • The criminal penalties for voluntary manslaughter can depend on aggravating and mitigating factors.

Voluntary manslaughter is an unlawful killing that happens in the heat of passion. For example, voluntary manslaughter charges may involve a husband walking in to find his wife in the act of cheating and shooting her lover. This does not justify the taking of a human life. However, the law recognizes that it is not the same as a premeditated first-degree murder.

The sentencing and penalties for voluntary manslaughter vary by state law. If you are facing charges for voluntary manslaughter, talk to a criminal defense attorney for legal advice.

What Is Voluntary Manslaughter?

Voluntary manslaughter is often referred to as a “crime of passion” killing. This can involve intentionally killing a human being without premeditation or malice aforethought. Voluntary manslaughter is usually a lesser included offense to murder charges. This means if you acted in the heat of passion, you could be convicted of voluntary manslaughter rather than murder.

Voluntary manslaughter is an intentional killing. Involuntary manslaughter generally involves reckless action that causes someone’s death. However, it doesn’t require intent to kill. For example, if you are driving under the influence (DUI) and get into a deadly accident, you could face involuntary manslaughter charges.

In some states, the exact definition of voluntary manslaughter differs. For example, many states do not separate manslaughter into involuntary and voluntary. Instead, they are both the crime of manslaughter.

Illinois is unique because the state uses voluntary manslaughter to specifically refer to the killing of an unborn child.

How Does the State Prove Manslaughter?

To establish the charge of manslaughter, the prosecutor must prove the following elements:

  • You were reasonably fearful or angry
  • You were actually provoked
  • There was insufficient time between provocation and the killing for a reasonable person to calm down
  • You did not calm down

The court must find that the extreme incident would provoke a reasonable person to kill. Insulting words alone are not enough to reduce a charge from murder to manslaughter.

The prosecutor has to prove all elements of the offense beyond a reasonable doubt. If your defense attorney can show any doubt about the elements of the offense, you should not be found guilty.

What Are the Penalties for Manslaughter?

Voluntary manslaughter sentencing will vary by case and jurisdiction. Most manslaughter convictions will result in mandatory prison time. Under federal law, the penalty for a federal conviction on voluntary manslaughter charges includes up to 15 years in prison. The exact sentence may depend on your criminal history, the facts of the case, and the jurisdiction.

What Are Mitigating and Aggravating Factors?

A judge can consider mitigating and aggravating factors when determining the sentence. Mitigating factors generally reduce a sentence. These factors may show that you do not pose a great risk to society. Mitigating factors may include:

  • You accepted responsibility for the crime
  • You show remorse
  • You had a lack of mental capacity
  • You were a young age
  • You have no criminal history

Aggravating factors can increase the severity of a criminal sentence. Courts will often consider such factors including:

  • The brutality of the crime
  • Your criminal record
  • The vulnerability of the victim

If the victim of the crime is a minor or a law enforcement officer, those can be aggravating factors for charges of voluntary manslaughter.

Manslaughter Sentencing Guidelines

Some state laws order one single sentence for all offenders, while others specify a range of possible penalties. Voluntary manslaughter under California law requires either three, six, or 11 years in prison. In Florida, manslaughter is a second-degree felony, resulting in up to 15 years in prison, or both.

Some states may also lay out specific aggravating or mitigating factors in their statutes. Under Florida law, voluntary manslaughter with the use of a weapon or firearm increases the offense to a first-degree felony.

How Can a Lawyer Help With Manslaughter Charges?

Manslaughter is one of the most serious criminal charges. You can face decades in state prison. An experienced criminal defense attorney can identify defense strategies for your criminal case. An attorney can also use plea bargaining to help you avoid the most serious penalties. For more information about your legal rights, talk to a criminal defense lawyer.

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