California Penal Code 192 outlines the parameters and specification of the charge of Voluntary Manslaughter. As we break down the scope of this offense, it is necessary to note that there are four primary elements to the charge:
Under state and federal law, voluntary manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being as a direct result of a quarrel or in the heat of passion. In other words, the defendant at the time of the killing had no intention of doing so, but such altercation resulted in such. Additionally, voluntary manslaughter is also known to be the lesser included offense to murder. Although a prosecutor may bring a murder charge to the table, the jury has the power to reduce the charge to voluntary manslaughter.
Reducing a Murder Charge
A defendant may find that the definition of voluntary manslaughter is different from state-to-state; however, there are a few elements that are consistent and applicable under California law which is proof of a sudden quarrel or a killing in the heat of passion.
Heat of Passion
If you are a fan of the ID channel, you might have caught a few episodes where one spouse killed another after finding them in bed with their lover. This refers to a murder in which a circumstance such as the one described would have caused a reasonable person to become unable to control their actions. Now, this is different from the spouse that is having a secret affair and hires someone to kill their spouse so that they are able to live happily ever after with their lover. That is considered murder and does not meet the elements of the offense of voluntary manslaughter.
If a defendant gets into a “heated discussion” with a victim, words alone may not necessarily mitigate the charge of murder. There must be evidence that the defendant was provoked and the words or actions were specifically aimed at the defendant. Even a low level battery may not be enough to mitigate a charge of murder to voluntary manslaughter.
There are a few states, such as California, that present the concept of imperfect self-defense which also qualifies a defendant’s charge to be reduced from murder to voluntary manslaughter. In order to use this defense, the defendant must show: (1) that they believed that they or someone they were defending was in imminent danger of great bodily harm or even death, and (2) that they believed that the use of deadly force was necessary to defend.
An example may be that a husband and wife neighbor are in the front yard arguing and the defendant goes across the street to see if assistance is needed. The husband (the aggressor) threatens to kill his wife and anyone that interferes and is waving a firearm around and then points it at his wife and says “goodbye.” The defendant, believing that the spouse as well as any other bystanders are in danger, pulls out their own firearm and shoots the aggressor before the aggressor ever pulls his own trigger. In the imperfect self-defense case, the belief has to be unreasonable to qualify for the LOI of voluntary manslaughter.
Regardless of the classification of the offense, it is important that you seek the assistance of competent legal counsel to help you best understand your legal defense while identifying an outcome that best minimizes your risk. We here at the H Law group patiently await your call.