Most voluntary manslaughter charges are reduced charges from murder. Murder is a severe allegation with significant consequences. If you are found guilty of murder, you might face a prison sentence ranging from fifteen years to life. However, depending on your situation, your lawyer could help you to get the charges reduced to voluntary manslaughter, which is a lesser offense with lesser consequences than murder. If you are facing manslaughter or murder charges in Pasadena, we invite you to contact us at the Michele Ferroni Pasadena Criminal Attorney Law Firm so that we can help defend you.
Understanding Voluntary Manslaughter Under California Law
In California, voluntary manslaughter is defined under California PC 192 (a) as the wrongful killing of another person during an unanticipated conflict, in the heat of the moment, or killing based on a genuine but unjustified conviction in the urge to protect oneself. The crime is a felony punishable by three, six, or eleven years in state prison.
You will be found guilty of either voluntary manslaughter or murder in the State of California when you willfully take someone's life with no legitimate justification. The distinction between murder and voluntary manslaughter is significant, making murder a much more grave charge.
This distinction is known as "malice aforethought" according to California law. The intention to kill /the willful disdain for human life are both elements of malice aforethought.
According to California PC 187, somebody who murders another human with malice aforethought is guilty of murder. Voluntary manslaughter allegations as per California PC 192 are more applicable in cases where there's no evidence of malice aforethought.
To have taken someone else's life "without malice" indicates that you:
- Took action in the heat of passion or during a sudden disagreement. Your behavior was either an instinctive response to being triggered and a result of the absence of judgment brought on by strong emotions
- You genuinely, but irrationally, felt the urge to protect yourself with deadly force
A conviction for manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of only eleven years. Due to the huge contrast between the gravity of the offenses and their consequences, prosecutors often pursue murder as the initial accusation in homicides. When there isn't enough evidence to sustain the initial murder accusations, they may enter a plea deal and lower the accusations to voluntary manslaughter.
Difference Between Murder and Voluntary Manslaughter
A comprehensive overview of homicide laws demonstrates the distinction between manslaughter and murder. Setting aside instances of "involuntary" manslaughter, often called negligent homicide, the majority of homicide charges include allegations that the accused committed one of the following:
- Planned to kill someone else, this is referred to as intentional homicide
- Committed an act that revealed the accused's blatant disdain for human life
For example, an accused who discharges a firearm at somebody and says, maybe justifiably, that he or she did not intend to murder anyone falls into the second group.
Nonetheless, the appellant was undoubtedly behaving with a deliberate disdain for human life, such as discharging a pistol at somebody is so deadly that no sensible person would fail to predict death as a foreseeable outcome.
Another aspect of the accused's intent determines if a homicide counts as manslaughter or murder. A person commits the act with "malice aforethought," a phrase that encompasses both express, malice, as well as implied malice.
In other words, if the act is so heinous that death was an inevitable outcome, as in our example above about purposefully discharging a firearm at somebody else, the jury will almost always assume he or she acted with implied malice.
Homicide Without Implied or Express Malice
Manslaughter is defined as a homicide committed without malice, either implied or expressed. Similarly, the three scenarios listed in California PC 192(a) that fall within this classification are:
- Heat of passion
- A sudden quarrel
- Imperfect self-defense
Picture the same scenario in which the victim was shot on purpose. If that shooting occurred right away:
- As a result of the defendant being provoked
- As a response to being provoked, the accused acted recklessly and with no time to think
- Their response to being provoked was legally justified, that is to say, a rational individual would have responded similarly
- The shooting was a consequence of a spur-of-the-moment dispute or a fit of rage
A stereotypical instance of a heat of passion homicide is a partner who goes home to discover his or her spouse lying in bed with a 3rd party and instantly pulls out a handgun and shoots. However, if the accused person had the chance to think and still went forward with killing someone else, the proper charge is murder and not manslaughter.
What the Prosecutor Must Prove
To effectively acquit a defendant of voluntary manslaughter committed during an argument or in the heat of passion, the prosecution must show the following:
- The accused had been provoked in some way
- The accused acted recklessly and as a response to being provoked
- He/she was under the influence of powerful emotions, which clouded his or her judgment or reasoning
- The provocation could have driven any typical person to behave impulsively and without proper deliberation that's from emotion instead of judgment
"Heat of passion," as used in this law, refers to any strong or passionate emotion that prompts an individual to behave rashly. If a defendant has sufficient time to calm down and restore his/her capacity to think sensibly between being provoked and killing, he /she is more probable to be charged with premeditated murder rather than manslaughter
The wrongful killing of someone else without malice is regarded as "manslaughter" under California Penal Code 192. When someone takes an action with either aforethought or a desire to murder, or a heedless or wanton disdain for human life, they are committing that act with "malice aforethought.
An allegation of voluntary manslaughter requires proof that provocation is enough to mentally provoke a sensible person under comparable circumstances. There are no specific standards in the State of California for determining reasonable provocation, however, it can't be vague or minor.
The following are examples of allegations that can be lowered from homicide charges to voluntary manslaughter charges once adequate provocation is established:
- An owner of a property killed someone when a bunch of people with firearms made their way into her home. The accused's property was ruined, and the group provoked her into a fight. The judge ruled that in that instance there was adequate provocation since the accused was afraid for her life and had no choice but to fire a few random bullets to intimidate them
- Another case is when someone kills a person barely hours after learning of the identity of the person suspected to have raped and killed his daughter
Penalties for California Voluntary Manslaughter
In the State of California, voluntary manslaughter is prosecuted as a felony. The court might convict a manslaughter defendant to 3, 6, or 11 years in the California state prison. A guilty charge could also lead to the following penalties:
- A possible strike against your criminal record under California's three-strikes legislation
- You will face fines of up to $10,000
- You will lose your rights to possess or carry a firearm under the "felon with a firearm" provision under California PC 29800
- Community service
- You could be mandated to take part in counseling programs
Possible Legal Defenses for Voluntary Manslaughter
The most popular defenses against voluntary manslaughter include you:
- Took action in self-defense
- Were insane when you committed that act
- Took someone's life by accident
Self-defense or in the Defense of Others
Self-defense statutes in California permit defendants to take another person's life if they're protecting themselves or someone else from:
- Sustaining a serious bodily harm
- Being killed
- Being sexually assaulted, wounded, robbed, or from being a victim of another heinous crime
These rules empower people to use whatever measures any sensible person could use (including lethal force) to defend themselves from the aforementioned dangers.
Imperfect self-defense occurs when an individual genuinely feels that deadly self-defense is justifiable under certain circumstances, yet this belief is considered unjustified. The killing would've been permissible when the self-defense is considered reasonable and justifiable.
Under the state's law, an individual may use force when protecting others or while in self-defense when he or she feels that he, she or someone else is in imminent danger, and that action is required to eliminate the danger, and also that the amount of force used is reasonable. This, however, doesn't absolve you of guilt; rather, it works as a mitigating element, lowering the accusations brought against you.
Self-defense is justifiable in California if you kill someone else while attempting to protect yourself or another person from serious physical harm, death, robbery, rape, maiming, or other heinous crime.
If an accused murders someone by mistake, they will not be charged with voluntary manslaughter. This defense seeks to ensure that the defendant:
- Did not have any malicious desire to cause harm
- At that moment, was not acting irresponsibly
- Was otherwise acting lawfully at the moment when the killing happened
When you're charged with voluntary manslaughter, the prosecution has the duty of establishing your guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt. The most ideal legal defense for voluntary manslaughter is to declare that you didn't commit the crime at all.
If the prosecution is not able to show the components of the offense, this defense will be successful. Your lawyer may also be able to assist you in contesting and disputing the prosecution's evidence. You'll have an opportunity to dispute the accusations if the jury believes that there is a shadow of a doubt regarding your guilt.
In California, being inebriated does not exempt you from unlawful behavior. Involuntary intoxication, on the other hand, can be used as self-defense in a voluntary manslaughter case. Additionally, if you have been charged with murder, your accusations may be lowered to manslaughter. You must, however, show that you had been drugged or that the drunkenness was unintentional.
Insanity can be used as a legal defense when you believe you weren't in your right state of mind when you perpetrated the crime. Insanity is defined as a lack of understanding of the consequences as well as the nature of one's actions.
As a result, if it's evident that you perpetrated the crime while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, you can't be held responsible for committing voluntary manslaughter. Insanity can also be defined as the inability to distinguish between good and bad, or the incapacity to regulate one's behavior.
The specific definition of insanity, nonetheless, will vary based on the facts of the case. In certain circumstances, you could be forced to enroll in a mental hospital for treatment and will not be released if you pose a risk to the public.
The legal procedure of providing defenses in cases of voluntary manslaughter might be lengthy. As a result, you'll need the help of an experienced criminal defense lawyer to go through the procedure.
Offenses Related to Voluntary Manslaughter
Voluntary manslaughter is related to five other offenses. They include:
- Penal Code 187, murder
- Penal Code 664 or Penal Code 187 (a), attempted murder
- Penal Code 192 (b), involuntary manslaughter
- Penal Code 192 (c), vehicular manslaughter
- Penal Code 187, Watson Murder
Murder Under Penal Code 187
Murder is described as "the wrongful killing of a fetus or another person with malice aforethought," according to California PC 187. Every premeditated homicide is classified as 1st-degree murder, which occurs when someone is killed while an accused person was committing a robbery, rape, or any other significant crime.
1st-degree murder carries a sentence ranging from twenty-five years to life if convicted. However, if the homicide entailed lying in wait, any sort of torture, use of a destructive weapon, or any special scenario, the sole consequences for this offense will be life imprisonment without the possibility of parole, or the accused faces capital punishment. An act of murder that's not premeditated is charged as 2nd-degree murder, which carries a sentence of 15 years to life imprisonment.
It's worth repeating that charges of voluntary manslaughter are defined as the wrongful killing of another human with no malice.
Attempted Murder Under Penal Code 664/187 (a)
Attempted murder, according to PC 664 or 187(a), is an offense in which someone intends to kill another person and takes a definite action toward killing them, but their intended target doesn't die. Attempted 1st-degree murder is punishable by life imprisonment in the state. Attempted 2nd-degree murder carries a sentence of five, seven, or nine years in California state prison.
As with murder under PC 187, attempted murder is classified into two categories. 1st degree attempted murder is deliberate and premeditated. Every other sort of attempted murder is classified as 2nd degree.
- Attempting to kill someone by poisoning them, but their victim lives
- Attempting to murder someone by stabbing them in the stomach, but the victim lives
- Attempting to murder someone by strangling them, and he or she lives
The following are the 4 most popular defenses for defending against Penal Code 664 or 187(a) charges. The defendant:
- Had no intention of killing
- Made no direct action to kill another person
- Was wrongly identified
- Took that action in self-defense
- Was wrongfully accused
PC 192b - Involuntary manslaughter
Involuntary manslaughter is an offense defined by California PC192b as when someone kills someone else unintentionally while committing:
- An offense that wasn't necessarily dangerous
- A legal action that could result in death
A conviction carries a penalty of up to four years in state prison as well as a maximum fine of $10,000.00.
Some examples of involuntary manslaughter include:
- A person breaks into a business and grabs a bicycle that had been left outside, thereby committing petty theft which is a misdemeanor under California PC 484. As he rides away on the stolen bicycle, he collides with a random pedestrian, who then succumbs to her injuries
- A woman and her spouse are having an argument, she then pulls out her handgun and threatens him. This violates brandishing a weapon statute under Penal Code 417. The spouse is killed when the firearm is accidentally discharged
In California, involuntary manslaughter is prosecuted as a felony. Penalties that may be imposed include
a sentence of two, three, or four years in prison, or/and a maximum fine of $10,000. This offense in California carries significant penalties and leaves a permanent mark on a person's criminal record. It's essential to fight these allegations with everything you have.
The following are legal defenses to PC 192 (b) accusations that might be brought by your criminal defense lawyer:
- You committed the act to protect yourself or others
- The death happened by accident (rather than as a consequence of your unlawful acts or recklessness)
- The charge is based on inconclusive evidence
- You have been wrongfully accused
A "Watson murder" is a type of 2nd-degree murder under California PC 187. This can be prosecuted when somebody with a past California DUI record kills a pedestrian or another motorist while driving under the influence.
When a DUI motorist triggers a deadly accident, the motorist might be charged with murder under PC 187 when he or she committed the act with "implied malice."
As stated before, malice aforethought is another term for "implied malice." It doesn't necessitate malice against the victim or the desire to kill the victim. Rather, an accused commits the act with implied malice behavior when:
- He/she commits an offense on purpose (in this example, driving while intoxicated)
- The act's inherent and foreseeable consequences are hazardous to human life
- When the accused commits the act, he/she is aware that it is harmful to human life
- The accused acts with a blatant disdain for human life
Demonstrating that the motorist committed the act with a "deliberate contempt for human life" is usually difficult for the prosecution. If the prosecution is unable to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt, the California DUI resulting in a fatality will likely be prosecuted as one of the following:
- Gross vehicular manslaughter while inebriated, as defined under PC 191.5(a)
- Vehicle manslaughter while intoxicated under PC 191.5(b)
Vehicular manslaughter is an offense defined by California PC 192 (c) as when someone drives recklessly, resulting in the death of someone else. According to California's felony-murder law, if you kill somebody while driving and commit felony murder, you'll be prosecuted with murder under PC 187.
The consequences of vehicular manslaughter in California are determined by if you acted in a reckless or negligent manner. There are two types of carelessness: gross negligence and ordinary negligence.
PC 192(c) vehicular manslaughter is usually a wobbler when you committed the act with gross negligence. This implies it might be prosecuted as either a misdemeanor or a felony.
Regarding vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence in California, the highest possible misdemeanor punishment is one year in jail, whereas the highest possible felony term is six years in California state prison.
PC192 (c) is prosecuted as a misdemeanor when you committed the act with ordinary negligence. The highest possible punishment under Penal Code 192(c) is one year in jail.
The following are some useful legal defenses for California Penal Code 192(c) charges:
- You didn't act in a negligent or reckless manner
- The death of the victim was not caused by your carelessness
- You were confronted with an emergency and responded appropriately given the situation
Find a Violent Crimes Pasadena Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
You might face voluntary manslaughter charges under California PC 192 when you kill someone else during an argument that may have gotten out of hand. Even if a plea deal for murder charges is reached, voluntary manslaughter convictions can be damaging to your future.
Fortunately, you have options for presenting strong defenses to avoid the unpleasant repercussions. Our attorneys at Michele Ferroni Pasadena Criminal Attorney Law Firm can help defend you if you are facing these charges in Pasadena. Call us at 626-628-0564 today.