THERE ARE SEVERAL DIFFERENT CLASSES OF HOMICIDE CHARGES, INCLUDING
First-degree murder: It must be proven that the perpetrating individual premeditated the act
Felony murder: This is a sub-category of first-degree murder related to murders associated with specific felonies, such as arson, child abuse, carjacking, kidnapping, and home invasion.
Second-degree murder: Premeditation does not need to be proven by the prosecution
Voluntary manslaughter: The act of killing another is intentional, but it occurred in the heat of passion
Involuntary manslaughter: Involves killing someone unintentionally
Because a conviction comes with such a hefty price, a detail-oriented, aggressive approach to your defense is vital. Police reports and witness testimony must be carefully investigated and all aspects of your case should be thoroughly scrutinized, leaving no stone unturned.
How Is Manslaughter Punished?
The punishment for manslaughter is generally less than for any degree of murder, although the penalties vary from state to state. An individual convicted of involuntary manslaughter under certain circumstances might not receive a prison sentence, while one convicted of voluntary manslaughter likely would.
A proper assessment of a self-defense case requires a very particular line of questioning, but the most important question is arguably this one: was the killing accidental? Exercising our free will and striking with intent to kill can greatly alter a case. Even if you were defending yourself, if it can be ruled that excessive force was used to protect yourself or the threat of death was not imminent, you could be reasonably charged with manslaughter. Sometimes, an accidental killing doesn’t result in a crime being charged, but the defendant can be sued for negligence if there was civil liability.
Self-defense killings are not charged as crimes. If you are forced to kill another person in self-defense, you can avoid criminal charges as long as your actions were justified. The defendant must prove that they were in imminent danger to avoid being charged with manslaughter.
The identity and history of the aggressor can also play an important role in a self-defense killing case. In some states, the defendant must prove that they attempted to flee before being forced to kill the aggressor. Stand-your-ground laws allow people to kill others who unlawfully trespass with malicious intent. Whether or not the aggressor was engaged in criminal activity when the killing took place can also affect the outcome of your case.
Self-defense can be misinterpreted as manslaughter depending on the situation. Although manslaughter is considered a lesser crime than murder, it still carries a serious penalty and can irreversibly alter people’s perception of you. Manslaughter isn’t planned in advance but results in the death of another. Voluntary manslaughter occurs when someone is provoked to kill another. For instance, when a parent kills an adult who hurts their child. Involuntary manslaughter occurs when someone acts in a criminal or reckless way and it results in the death of another. This is usually associated with automobile accidents, especially those involving drunk drivers.
If you were involved in killing someone else, prosecutors will most likely charge you at first with murder. Murder carries a sentence of 15 years to life, which rises to 25-to-life if you have been charged with first degree murder.
However, it is sometimes possible to see your charges reduced to voluntary manslaughter.
Prosecutors almost never initially charge someone with voluntary manslaughter, and it’s easy to see why. Voluntary manslaughter is a lesser charge to murder, and it has significantly shorter penalties. Sentences can be as short as just three years in prison.
When you intentionally kill someone without a legal excuse for doing so, you are either committing murder or voluntary manslaughter.
What separates murder and voluntary manslaughter is the concept of “malice aforethought.” Malice aforethought means that if you intentionally meant to kill a person or acted with a wanton disregard for human life (firing a gun into a public space, for example), you could be found guilty for murder.
Voluntary manslaughter is more appropriate in cases where there was no malice aforethought. These are situations where there was:
A sudden quarrel or heat of passion. This means you were provoked, which caused you to react rashly in a state of intense emotion that obscured your judgment, and that an average person would also act rashly in that situation.
An honest but unreasonable need to defend yourself. You were in a situation where you felt you needed deadly force to defend yourself.
Examples of voluntary manslaughter
There is a lot of nuance to California’s voluntary manslaughter laws, so let’s take a moment to look at three examples.
Example 1: Jon is in his home. A group of young men brandishing weapons approaches his house and begin calling for him to come out and fight. They begin smashing his car, which is only a short distance from his door.
Jon emerges and shoots one of the men, killing him. Courts have ruled in the past that a scenario like this is intense enough to have murder charges reduced to voluntary manslaughter.
Example 2: Steve has suffered from decades of verbal abuse from his father. Whenever the two communicate, Steve’s father always interjects with a comment meant to belittle Steve. After some time, Steve decides he’s had enough. He drives to his father’s house and kills him.
Even though Steve felt provoked, courts have ruled in situations like these that although provocation can arise over time, general taunting or belittling comments aren’t enough to reduce a murder charge to voluntary manslaughter.
Example 3: Mandy is married to Bill. In the past, Bill has tried to provoke Mandy by getting caught in situations of infidelity. One day, Mandy comes home from work to find Bill with another woman. In the heat of the situation, she stabs and kills him.
Courts have ruled that situations of infidelity like these are enough to reduce a murder charge to involuntary manslaughter.
Penalties for voluntary manslaughter
As we mentioned above, voluntary manslaughter carries significantly shorter penalties than murder. It is a felony, punishable by:
Three, six or eleven years in California state prison
Up to $10,000 in fines
A strike on your record pursuant to California’s “three strikes” law
In addition to this, you could also face restrictions on your ability to own firearms and/or be required to attend counseling services.