Voluntary manslaughter is a type of criminal homicide charge that is of lesser seriousness than murder. Voluntary manslaughter is defined as a killing that results from:

  • “The heat of passion” or “sudden fit of rage," such as if the defendant found their spouse in bed with another person. This is proven through the use of the provocation defense.
  • Imperfect self-defense.
  • The commission of a felony, such as kidnapping or grand larceny.

Voluntary manslaughter is also related to the crime of involuntary manslaughter, which is a lesser offense than voluntary manslaughter.

How Is Voluntary Manslaughter Different from Involuntary Manslaughter?

Both voluntary and involuntary manslaughter lack the element of malicious intent. However, involuntary manslaughter occurs when the death may attributed to the defendant’s careless behavior, or when the death occurs during the commission of a crime that is less serious than a felony (such as a misdemeanor theft). 

Thus, involuntary manslaughter usually has to do with accidental conduct, whereas voluntary manslaughter is not necessarily accidental. 

What Are the Legal Penalties for Voluntary Manslaughter?

Voluntary manslaughter is generally classified under most state laws as a first-degree felony. This is a very serious charge resulting in:

  • Stiff criminal fines
  • Prison sentences of up to ten years
  • Other consequences such as mandatory counseling or anger management courses

When formulating sentencing guidelines, some states only list a maximum amount of prison time for voluntary manslaughter (usually ten years). However, other states may list very specific sentences for voluntary manslaughter convictions. For example, the state of California lists increments of 3, 6, or 11 years depending on the nature of the defendant’s conduct. Penalties can also be affected by aggravating or mitigating factors (factors which make the crime either more or less egregious).

Are There Any Defenses to Voluntary Manslaughter?

One of the main aspects in many voluntary manslaughter cases is that of “provocation.” This is related to killings done “in the heat of passion.” When a killing has been committed in the heat of passion, the court will consider many different factors which may actually serve as a defense for the defendant. These can include:

  • Whether the killing happened within a certain period of time after the provocation;
  • Whether a reasonable person would normally have cooled off during that time period;
  • Whether the defendant did or did not in fact cool off;
  • Whether the a reasonable person would have reacted in a similar manner as the defendant under the same type of “provocation”

So for example, if a reasonable person would NOT have cooled off in the time period involved, it may work in the defendant’s favor during the criminal trial.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Voluntary Manslaughter Charges?

Voluntary manslaughter laws can be fairly complicated. In addition, criminal guidelines can vary from region to region. It’s in your best interests to contact an experienced criminal defense lawyer in your area if you have any legal questions, or if you’re facing voluntary manslaughter charges. Your attorney can provide you with expert legal advice, and can help represent you in your defense during a court trial.