Voluntary manslaughter is a homicide done because the perpetrator was provoked into killing the victim. It is different than murder. Murder is a homicide done with malice and usually premeditation. A person plans, thinks, and intends to perpetrate homicide. Homicide is the legal term for the killing of a human being.

What Is Voluntary Manslaughter in North Carolina?

Voluntary manslaughter in North Carolina is defined as homicide done in the heat of the moment. This form of homicide is not planned but is done because the individual is provoked.

By being provoked, the individual is pushed beyond their breaking point. This causes them to kill in an impulsive, violent fit of rage.

Are There Any Defenses to Voluntary Manslaughter?

One of the essential elements of voluntary manslaughter cases is whether the defendant was provoked. The defense of provocation can lower a murder charge to voluntary manslaughter.
For example, in the heat of passion, the defendant will have to show that they became so enraged that it “provoked” them to attack their spouse or third party.

Other factors that will be assessed when a defendant asserts a provocation defense include:

  • Whether the killing occurred within a specific time frame after the provocation happened;
  • Whether a reasonable individual would typically have cooled off during that same time;
  • Whether the defendant had cooled off already or not; and
  • Whether a reasonable individual would have responded in the same or a similar manner as the defendant under the circumstances.

So, for instance, if a reasonable individual would not have cooled off within the same time and under the same or comparable circumstances, then the provocation defense may work in the defendant’s favor during their criminal trial.

Nevertheless, the time for “cooling off” is not specific. The courts have never decided whether 10 minutes or 5 minutes is enough. Rather, they will always look at the evidence and decide on a case-by-case basis.

What Is a Mitigating Factor?

A mitigating factor is any factor used to decrease a criminal charge or a possible punishment. A mitigating factor can decrease a homicide charge from murder to manslaughter.

Additionally, mitigating factors may also reduce a potential criminal sentence from 10 years to 5 years, depending upon the circumstances of the crime.

What Is the Difference Between Involuntary Manslaughter and Voluntary Manslaughter?

The distinction between voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter is the perpetrator’s intention at the time of the killing. With voluntary manslaughter, the perpetrator wants to kill the victim.

Involuntary manslaughter, on the other hand, is a homicide caused by reckless or criminal negligence. The individual can also be charged with involuntary manslaughter when their actions are a total accident. Prosecutors may determine the person accused of the crime placed the victim in a dangerous situation. That perilous situation caused the victim’s death.

What are the Elements of an Involuntary Manslaughter Charge?

The elements for an involuntary manslaughter charge include establishing the following:

  • The defendant’s actions caused the death of another person;
  • The defendant’s actions were inherently dangerous or done with reckless disregard; and
  • The defendant knew or should have known that their actions would put the lives of other human beings at risk.

It is essential to mention that not all of the actions undertaken by the defendant have to be inherently dangerous. For instance, installing scaffolding during construction is quite a regular activity.

Nevertheless, if the scaffolding supervisor failed to secure the scaffolding properly and a pedestrian walking below is killed, the supervisor may be held criminally liable and charged with involuntary manslaughter. Similarly, it will depend on the circumstances of the case and how the evidence is shared and applied.

What Are the Potential Penalties and Sentences for Involuntary Manslaughter?

Driving your car recklessly, even if not done under the influence of alcohol, can result in the death of another person. The law recognizes the distinction between the driver’s mindset who purposely runs over another person and one who does it by accident and has penalties that reflect a varying degree of seriousness.

The sentencing guidelines at the federal level for involuntary manslaughter vary depending on the defendant’s case circumstances. For instance, the federal sentencing guidelines for a base sentence for involuntary manslaughter is 12 months to 22 months, with the higher end of the sentence imposed based on whether the defendant’s action was reckless. The base sentence for 22 months is for an offense involving an automobile or boat.

The state court will refer to the federal sentencing guidelines when determining penalties. They will do so within their discretion, which means sentences may vary. Keep in mind also that courts will look at any aggravating and mitigating factors to decide on final penalties.

The aggravating factors will be based on the unique factual circumstances of your case. The common aggravating factors assessed by a court will include evidence of your previous record (particularly if it involved a similar offense), the instrument involved, the number of victims, the relationship with the deceased, and any cruelty involved in the commission of the crime.

Contrarily, mitigating factors like the defendant’s mental state and the relatively insignificant role they played in committing the crime may help influence the court to order a softer sentence.
You can see that the aggravating and mitigating factors are critical in shaping an involuntary manslaughter case from its inception. Thus, it would help to make your lawyer aware of any applicable factors as soon as possible.

What Is the Provocation Defense?

The provocation defense is used in murder cases where the defendant argues they did not have the requisite mindset to murder because the victim provoked them. In other words, the perpetrator did not murder because they committed homicide due to being overwhelmed by rage, rather than methodically scheming to kill the individual.

If this defense is successfully established, any murder charges that a defendant faces will be lowered to voluntary manslaughter.

What Are the Different Possible Types of Provocation?

There are two main types of provocation:

  • Adequate provocation, and
  • Reasonable provocation

Adequate provocation is the circumstances or conduct that rob a reasonable person of their ability to exercise self-control.

As noted above, adequate provocation is a mitigating factor used to lessen the criminal charge of murder to a lesser charge of manslaughter. Therefore, it is used to establish no malice was involved in the defendant’s actions.

Reasonable provocation is a type of provocation that enrages an ordinary individual to become capable of committing homicide. The provocation must be enough to cause extreme nervousness, passion, fury, terror, or excited apprehension in an ordinary person.

These powerful emotions would prevent even an ordinary individual from stopping to reflect or think about their actions. Either type of provocation may be used as a mitigating factor in a homicide case.

What Is the Penalty for Voluntary Manslaughter in North Carolina?

Voluntary manslaughter is a Class D felony in North Carolina. The punishment for a Class D felony is 51 to 64 months in prison.

Should I Contact a Lawyer?

Voluntary manslaughter is a serious crime that is punished severely. Contact a North Carolina criminal lawyer immediately if you are suspected or accused of manslaughter in North Carolina.