Convictions for voluntary manslaughter carry varying sentences and penalties, depending on state laws. Due to these differences, a person convicted of voluntary manslaughter may often find it challenging to understand the complexities of criminal law. The criminal charge often carries a penalty imposed by the state statute. In general, state laws may impose a single penalty or a range of penalties.
When examining a criminal case, courts also consider the presence of aggravating and mitigating factors. Aggravating factors add to the gravity of the sentence. Meanwhile, mitigating factors reduce the severity of punishment. All these factors are considered in addition to the victim's rights and the rights of the person facing the manslaughter sentence.
Understanding these complexities is essential, particularly for those facing these criminal charges and their loved ones. This article will help provide a better understanding of these issues. It discusses the following topics:
What Is Voluntary Manslaughter?
Voluntary manslaughter is a type of homicide. It's often seen in cases of imperfect self-defense or heat of passion crimes. It is intentionally killing another without deliberation, premeditation, or malice aforethought. It results in the death of another, and it often involves provocation by the victim.
But unlike an accidental killing, defendants cannot simply claim that victims provoked them to commit the act. The defendant must show that the provocation was such that a reasonable person would lose control of his actions under the same circumstances. Or they must show that a reasonable person if exposed to the same provocation, would experience an irresistible impulse to harm the victim.
Although this crime is fact-based, most courts have held that certain acts fall under adequate provocation. An example is if a person caught his or her spouse in the act of committing adultery. Yet, courts also have held that mere words, without other acts, were not enough to invoke adequate provocation. The same is true with the crime of battery when the physical contact is minor.
Next, the act must have been committed in the heat of passion. This means the victim's provocation triggered the defendant's anger or rage. It also means that the killing happened while the defendant was experiencing that heat of passion. The defendant cannot claim the heat of passion defense if the killing happened later or sometime after the provocation.
This article discusses the defenses to voluntary manslaughter and the aggravating and mitigating factors in these cases.
The Distinction Between Voluntary Manslaughter, Involuntary Manslaughter, and Murder Charges
Involuntary manslaughter occurs when a person, without intent, causes the death of another person. The difference with voluntary manslaughter is that for voluntary manslaughter, the unlawful act is committed intentionally. Such an act must also lead to the loss of life of the human being. Charges of voluntary manslaughter often occur in cases of imperfect self-defense.
But voluntary manslaughter differs from first-degree murder and second-degree murder. For murder charges, the defendant must have planned and thought of committing the unlawful killing. It was committed with the intent to harm or kill the victim. Murder and attempted murder are acts that involve premeditation or malice aforethought. "Malice aforethought" means the person desired to commit the criminal act.
The difference between the two is that for attempted murder, the victim was unsuccessful in his plan to kill the victim. Yet, overt acts toward the commission of the crime were carried out.
Aggravating and Mitigating Factors
To settle on an appropriate penalty, courts will examine the circumstances surrounding the crime. The circumstances leading to the loss of human life will assist the court in determining the appropriate penalty.
These factors fall into two categories: aggravating factors and mitigating factors.
Aggravating factors are facts about the crime, the defendant, or the victim that tend to make the crime more serious. Thus, with aggravating factors, the sentence imposed gets higher. Examples of aggravating factors include:
- The criminal record or prior convictions of the accused
- The weapon used to commit the crime
- The vulnerability of the victim
- The use of violence or the victim experiencing great bodily harm
- Other factors that the court may deem relevant
The more aggravating factors, the more likely the defendant will receive a harsher sentence.
Meanwhile, mitigating factors are the opposite. They lower the punishment imposed. Some mitigating factors include:
- The defendant not having a previous criminal history
- The defendant surrendering to the police officer or law enforcement authorities
- The defendant showing signs of regret or remorse
- The defendant was struggling with mental illness or addiction
Voluntary Manslaughter Sentencing Procedures
The sentencing procedure depends on the rules of the jurisdiction holding the trial. A hearing is held for the prosecution and defense to present aggravating and mitigating factors for the court's consideration. After the hearing, the court will consider all the factors present in the case, determine the sentence, and announce it in court.
Note that some state laws present one sentence for all offenders. Meanwhile, other states have a range of possible penalties that the court can impose on the perpetrator of the crime.
For instance, in California, under Penal Code 192(a), sentences for voluntary manslaughter can either be three, six, or 11-year prison sentences. In Florida, on the other hand, voluntary manslaughter is a second-degree felony. Thus, the penalty can be up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
Seek Legal Advice From a Criminal Defense Attorney
The rules and regulations surrounding voluntary manslaughter may vary in every state. But one common factor is that this crime carries severe consequences for the person found guilty. Some may find themselves in state prison for manslaughter cases or in county jail, pending trial.
If you or a loved one is dealing with a voluntary manslaughter charge, consult a criminal defense attorney near you. They can provide a case evaluation to help you understand your rights. They will also analyze the defenses that could be applied to your case under your state's law.
Criminal defense lawyers can look at potential plea bargaining and plan a defense strategy when you appear in court. In addition, they can advocate for your rights and provide legal advice that is particularly tailored to your case.
FindLaw has a directory of criminal defense lawyers in every state. It also has articles on voluntary manslaughter and other criminal legal issues that anyone can access for free.