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What is Third Degree Murder in California?

What is Third Degree Murder in California?

Chances are you’ve heard of first-degree and second-degree murder, but you may not have heard of third-degree murder. 

Third-degree murder is also known as manslaughter and is a violent crime in California. Although third-degree murder falls under CA Penal Code 187 like first- and second-degree murders, there are some differences you should know about. 

Definition of Third-Degree Murder

In California there are three main types of manslaughter

Voluntary Manslaughter — Penal Code 192a

Voluntary manslaughter cases normally happen in the "heat of the moment." In other words, they occur when emotions run high and people aren't thinking clearly. For example, a man comes home to find his wife in bed with another man — in the "heat of the moment" he pulls out his gun and shoots the other man, killing him. Voluntary manslaughter is done deliberately, but not with any preplanning. 

Involuntary Manslaughter — Penal Code 192b

If a person dies during a crime that is not normally considered life-threatening, a charge of involuntary manslaughter may occur. The defendant does not intend to kill anyone by their actions. For example, a young man runs past a woman, grabbing her purse and attempting to steal it. The woman holds on to the purse, is knocked off her feet, and falls to the ground. She bangs her head on the ground and dies. Police arrest the young man for involuntary manslaughter. 

Vehicular Manslaughter — Penal Code 192c

Very similar to involuntary manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter happens when someone unintentionally kills another person during a car accident. 

What Are the Penalties for Manslaughter? 

Third-degree murder or manslaughter penalties depend on the type of manslaughter charged:

  • Voluntary manslaughter charges carry a sentence of up to 11 years in state prison
  • Involuntary manslaughter charges carry a sentence of up to four years in state prison
  • Vehicular manslaughter is a "wobbler" in California, which means it can be treated as a felony or misdemeanor depending on the case, the evidence, the presiding judge, and the defendant's criminal background. A misdemeanor carries a maximum of one year in state prison, while a felony conviction issues up to 10 years in state jail. 

There are additional fines and other penalties for specific cases and manslaughter charges. 

Also, voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter committed with a dangerous weapon both fall under California’s Three Strikes Law. Anyone convicted of three violent crimes automatically receives a minimum sentence of 25 years to life in state prison. 

Additionally, those convicted of third-degree murder may face lawsuits from the families of those killed by their actions. These include "wrongful death" lawsuits or "survival" course of action.  

How Can a Third-Degree Murder Charge Be Defended?

Criminal defense attorneys defend third-degree or manslaughter cases in a few different ways. 

  • The defendant protected themselves or others around them from harm, resulting in the other person’s death. The protection could be from themselves dying or being harmed, as well as crimes such as rape or robbery
  • The incident was a complete accident. The defendant did not act recklessly or carelessly and meant no harm to anyone else. 
  • The defendant did not understand what they did was morally wrong, resulting in a plea of guilt by reason of insanity. 
  • Officers mistakenly arrested the defendant and/or coerced a false confession from them. 

Make no mistake — third-degree murder or manslaughter charges are serious. They are still considered violent felony crimes in California and carry a long time in state prison. If you or a loved one faces a third-degree murder charge, call the H Law Group to ensure you have a reputable and experience criminal defense attorney on your side. Schedule your free consultation online or by calling us at (213) 370-0404.

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