Under Penal Code 192, California laws prohibit the unlawful killing of a human being during impulsive quarrels, in the heat of passion, or on the grounds of an unreasonable belief that you need to defend yourself. Even though the violent crime is not as grave as committing murder, it is still a felony that attracts a maximum of 11 years in state prison. If you need legal defense against voluntary manslaughter charges, we urge you to turn to Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm. We have a team of seasoned attorneys who can aid with investigations and help you build a strong defense strategy.
When accused of killing another person, it is common for the prosecution to jump straight to pressing murder charges under Penal Code 187. However, a competent attorney can help persuade the court that you lacked malicious intent. Depending on the facts of a case, the prosecutor can reduce the charges and instead charge you for voluntary manslaughter.
Voluntary Manslaughter (Penal Code 192) Defined
Killing another person is a crime, especially if you do not have a legal excuse for your actions. Under Penal Code 192, you can commit voluntary manslaughter if you kill another person under the following circumstances:
- During an impulsive quarrel
- In the heat of passion
- Based on an unreasonable but honest belief that you need to defend yourself
One of the legal excuses for killing another person is that you acted in self-defense. However, you can only legally act in self-defense if you reasonably believe that you or someone else faced an impending threat of physical harm. Furthermore, the law only allows you to use justifiable force to neutralize your alleged attacker.
You are guilty of voluntary manslaughter if you use more force than necessary or kill another person based on an unreasonable belief of impending danger. Any killing that constitutes an "imperfect self-defense" can leave you facing voluntary manslaughter charges.
First-Degree Homicide vs. Second-Degree Homicide vs. Manslaughter
There is a thin line between first-degree homicide, second-degree homicide, and manslaughter. First-degree murder involves intentionally killing another person, while second-degree murder involves reckless killing.
During first-degree homicide and second-degree homicide, the defendant acts with a conscious disregard for human life and without justifiable or adequate provocation. On the other hand, during manslaughter, the accused acts without "malice aforethought."
Heat of Passion
The statute prohibiting voluntary manslaughter defines the crime as killing another human in the "heat of passion." Killing in the heat of passion means that you were provoked. The provocation intensified your emotions, obscured your judgment, and you acted impulsively.
For the prosecution to impose voluntary manslaughter charges instead of murder, the provocation must have been sufficient to cause any reasonable person in a similar position to act rashly and without a second thought. Furthermore, the defendant must have acted at the moment.
If time passed between the provocation and the killing, you had time to calm down and could not have acted in the "heat of the moment." This rules out voluntary manslaughter and makes first-degree murder a more befitting charge. The time in between or the lack of sufficient provocation to act as you did can make it impossible to meet the subjective and objective elements of the "heat of passion."
Voluntary Manslaughter Elements
Voluntary manslaughter is a violent crime typically convicted under federal laws. The prosecutor must establish three crucial elements beyond a reasonable doubt to find you guilty of violating Penal Code 192. These elements include:
- You were provoked
- You acted rashly or impulsively because of the provocation and the influence of intense emotion obscuring your reasoning.
- Any reasonable person would have acted rashly and without proper judgment under the same provocation.
It would be best if you did not underestimate the importance of working with a skilled criminal defense attorney as soon as you are arrested. The expert will prove that even though you ended the life of another human, the offense does not fit the classification of murder. If the prosecution cannot prove that malice afterthought existed, you had time to premeditate on your intentions to kill or acted with a wanton disregard for human life, you cannot be charged with murder under Penal Code 187.
Bradley gets home on time to see his house go up in flames. The crowd around the house informs him that the alleged arsonist is his ex-wife's boyfriend, Peter. Bradley leaves without saying a word and heads to the local bar owned by Peter. Peter attempts to run away the moment he sees Bradley charging toward him. Bradley shoots Peter twice before he is arrested.
Bradley's marriage ended after his wife cheated on him with Peter. Based on the strained relationship between the two, informing Bradley about a suspicion that Peter put his house on fire is a legally adequate provocation for voluntary manslaughter. Also, the time between learning the allegations and shooting Peter was insufficient to allow Bradley to calm down. Therefore, Bradley meets both the subjective and objective elements to face voluntary manslaughter charges instead of murder.
If several days went by before Bradley spotted and shot Peter, the most befitting charge would be murder under Penal Code 187. The extended time in between would prove that Bradley had enough time to cool off and think straight.
Therefore, Bradley would not have acted out of impulse or high emotions, and the death of Peter would not have been a spontaneous result of the heat of passion. Moreover, the extended period would suggest that Bradley had time to premeditate on his actions and possibly plan on how to kill Peter.
Penalties for Violating Penal Code 192
Violating Penal Code 192 is a felony. A voluntary manslaughter conviction will result in the following penalty:
- 3, 6, or 11-year sentence in state prison
- A fine not exceeding $10,000
Voluntary manslaughter is a "strikeable" offense under California's Three Strikes Laws. Your sentence will be subject to enhancement if you have a prior PC 192 conviction. Also, a judge can impose sentence enhancements if a crime is gang-affiliated or a defendant used a lethal weapon to commit voluntary manslaughter.
Best Defenses to Fight Voluntary Manslaughter Charges
The right defense strategy will highly depend on the circumstances around an incident and the evidence gathered during investigations. As aforementioned, it is common for the prosecution to file murder charges and only reduce the crime to voluntary manslaughter if the existence of malice afterthought cannot be established.
A competent criminal defense attorney can further attack the prosecutor's case to help clear your name. It is possible to enter a plea bargain and enjoy a reduced sentence if the defense strategy weakens your case.
The following defenses could come in handy when fighting voluntary manslaughter charges:
Self-Defense or the Defense of Others
One of the best defenses to fight voluntary manslaughter charges is claiming that you acted in self-defense. Your attorney will merely need to prove that you had a "reasonable" belief that you faced an impending danger of physical harm. Even though you made a mistake in judgment and used a deadly weapon, you had no time to think and merely used what was available to neutralize your attacker.
Claiming imperfect self-defense is not likely to have you acquitted. However, a strong argument can serve as a mitigating factor to have your sentence reduced.
Imperfect self-defense occurs when:
- You believe that you are in imminent danger of a deadly attack
- You think that you need to use deadly force to defend yourself, but
- At least one of these beliefs is unreasonable
If you can prove that your fear of harm was "reasonable," the court can opt to drop the case. A skilled lawyer can do so by gathering evidence that shows you had reason to use deadly force for fear of being killed, robbed, raped, maimed, or seriously injured. The argument could hold up, primarily if you used force proportionate to the threat you faced.
It is also possible to obtain a favorable outcome by claiming that an incident was an accident and not voluntary manslaughter. The defense can bear the intended fruit if you can prove that you had no criminal intent to harm the victim, did not act negligently, and did not engage in unlawful behavior at the time of the killing.
A judge can drop the case if the prosecution cannot prove your motive or intent. An acquittal is likely to come with a particular set of conditions, like you must pay restitution to the victim(s) for the wrongful death of their loved one.
The prosecution must have a strong case against you backed with concrete facts. If evidence proving your guilt cannot be tabled, a voluntary manslaughter case can be open and shut.
It is not enough for the prosecutors to merely depend on the word of the police to present a case. They must also dedicate time and resources to conducting investigations, re-examining the evidence, and even seeking the opinions of forensic experts to unveil what happened. When the case against you is weak, a competent attorney can argue that you were wrongfully arrested or even falsely accused. It is up to the prosecution to prove otherwise by meeting the evidentiary standards of voluntary manslaughter beyond a reasonable doubt.
If you have a mental disorder that can obscure your judgment, you could claim that you suffered temporary insanity. The defense can be used if you did not understand what you were doing at the time of the killing and could not differentiate right from wrong because of your state of mind.
When claiming insanity, you must understand that the court cannot drop your charges. While a successful defense strategy can keep you out of jail, you may have to undergo mandatory mental treatment. Your stay in the mental facility can be shorter or longer than your sentence, depending on the psychiatrists' recommendations.
Killing another human is universally illegal and prohibited by both federal and California laws. Homicide laws are pretty expansive, and the facts of a case will play a significant role in dictating the charges the prosecution will impose. Some of the offenses related to voluntary manslaughter include:
Murder — Penal Code 187
Under California homicide laws, killing another human can be classified as murder or manslaughter. The crime of murder can be further categorized into first and second-degree murder. Penal Code 187 describes murder as the illegal killing of another human or fetus with malice afterthought. The main difference between murder and manslaughter is the existence of "malice afterthought."
First-degree murder is perceived as more severe and involves deliberate killing during the commission of a serious like rape, carjacking, or robbery. A conviction attracts a sentence of 25 years to life, depending on the circumstances of the case.
When charged with murder, the prosecution must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- You ended the life of another human being or fetus
- You acted with malice afterthought
- You do not have a legal excuse or justification for your actions
With the help of a competent criminal defense attorney, it is possible to persuade the prosecution to reduce murder charges to manslaughter charges. Your attorney must demonstrate that your actions lacked express or implied malice.
The punishment for murder will highly depend on the specific charges you face under homicide laws. If you are accused of first-degree murder, a conviction attracts the following penalty:
- 25 years to life in state prison, or
- 25 years to life in state prison without the possibility of parole if convicted of hate crime murder
A conviction for capital murder is punishable by:
- The death penalty (through a lethal dose of gas or lethal intravenous injection, or
- Life in prison without the possibility of parole
If you are found guilty of second-degree murder, the penalty includes:
- Imprisonment for 15 years to life in state prison, or
- Life with no possibility of parole for defendants with a prior murder sentence
A murder conviction will attract additional penalties if there are particular circumstances like the use of a firearm or a killing during the commission of a felony. The judge has the discretion of increasing the jail sentence by 10, 20, or 25 years to life. Because of the hefty penalties allied with a murder conviction, it pays to work with a seasoned attorney who can use facts and strong arguments to persuade the prosecution to reduce the charge to voluntary manslaughter.
Involuntary Manslaughter — Penal Code 192b
Under Penal Code 192b, the law makes it illegal to kill another person by acting with criminal negligence. Like voluntary manslaughter, the defendant doesn't need to have acted with malice afterthought to be guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
The elements of Penal Code 192b are as follows:
- You acted with criminal negligence
- Your actions lead to the death of another person
Homicide laws are pretty broad, and even a tiny detail can quickly escalate the charges into murder. For instance, if you cause the death of another person while committing a felony or engaging in inherently dangerous actions, the prosecution is likely to impose murder charges.
The statute's term "criminal negligence" implies more than just usual inattention, carelessness, or misjudgment. Such negligence occurs when you act recklessly, creating a significant risk of severe physical injury or death. The prosecution can also establish criminal negligence by satisfying that any reasonable person would know that acting in your manner can create the risk of severe injury or death.
Generally, you can be guilty of involuntary manslaughter if your actions cause another person's direct, natural or probable death. It is also possible to be convicted of the crime based on a breach of your legal duty of care.
If you face involuntary manslaughter charges based on your failure to exercise your legal duty, the prosecution must prove the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:
- You owed the victim a legal duty of care
- You failed to exercise your legal duty
- Your breach of care was criminally negligent
- Your failure to exercise your legal responsibility caused the direct, natural, or probable death of the victim
Involuntary manslaughter is a felony. A conviction attracts the following penalty:
- A jail sentence of 2, 3, or 4 years
- A fine not exceeding $10,000
Attempted Murder — Penal Code 664/187(a)
Penal Code 664/187(a) describes attempted murder as the offense of intending to kill a human being and taking at least one direct step towards accomplishing the mission but failing. The offense is classified as first-degree attempted murder when the defendant premeditated the actions. All other types of attempted homicides that are not deliberate or premeditated attract second-degree attempted murder charges.
The prosecution must prove three vital elements to convict you of attempted murder. They include:
- You took at least one direct step towards killing another person
- You acted with malice afterthought
- Your action was ineffective (the victim survived)
The term "direct step" implies that you did more than plan to murder another person. You put your plan in motion and possibly fired a gun at the victim or paid a hitman to get the job done. Your direct step doesn't have to have caused physical harm to the victim to be convicted of attempted murder.
Like most cases prosecuted under homicide laws, attempted murder is always a felony. The punishment imposed will highly depend on whether you are convicted of first or second-degree attempted murder.
The penalty for first-degree attempted murder includes:
- Life imprisonment in state prison (with the possibility of parole
A second-degree murder conviction is punishable by:
- 5, 7, or 9 years incarceration
California Vehicular Manslaughter — Penal Code 192(c)
Vehicular manslaughter, as defined under Penal Code 192(c), is the crime of driving negligently or in an unlawful manner and causing the death of another person.
The court will always consider the defendant's degree of negligence, criminal history, and intoxication levels before deciding the most befitting punishment for an offense. The existence of gross negligence makes the crime a wobbler, meaning the prosecution can impose felony or misdemeanor charges. The offense is a misdemeanor when the defendant only acted in ordinary negligence.
The prosecution can establish the existence of gross negligence by proving the following elements:
- You operated a vehicle in a manner dangerous to human life
- You acted with gross negligence (a way that might cause death)
- Your actions ended the life of another person
The law defines gross negligence as conduct that is more than just ordinary misjudgment, inattentiveness, or carelessness. Gross negligence includes actions that create a significant risk of severe physical injury or death. Also, a reasonable person would understand that acting in a specific manner creates the risk of great harm or death.
On the other hand, the prosecution must prove the following elements to convict you of misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter:
- You operated a vehicle with ordinary negligence
- Your actions lead to the death of another person
The penalty of vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence as stipulated under Penal Code 192(c)(1) includes the following when charged as a misdemeanor:
- Misdemeanor probation, or
- A county jail sentence for up to 1 year
- A maximum fine of $1,000
A felony conviction for vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence includes:
- Felony probation, or
- Incarceration for 2, 4, or 6 years
- A fine not exceeding $10,000
The penalty for vehicular manslaughter with ordinary negligence as stipulated under Penal Code 192(c)(2) includes:
- Misdemeanor probation, or
- County jail sentence for up to 1 year
- A $1,000 maximum fine
Find a Criminal Defense Attorney Near Me
Voluntary manslaughter charges can leave you serving time for years and paying hefty fines. Because of the complexity of the alleged crime, it is best to work with a criminal defense attorney who has a proven track record. At Riverside Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm, we understand that the charges you face put your freedom, reputation, and future at stake. We work as a team to thoroughly uncover the facts of a case to unveil favorable evidence that can help us obtain the best possible outcome. Our record of success in getting our clients acquitted or their sentences reduced will give you peace of mind even as you prepare for a trial. Call us today at 951-946-6366 for a 100% free consultation and case evaluation.