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Michigan Voluntary Manslaughter Law

We’ve all most likely heard the term “voluntary manslaughter” at some point. Although it is obvious that the term refers to a crime involving someone’s death, what exactly does “voluntary manslaughter” mean? How is it any different from murder?

Voluntary manslaughter occurs when one person intentionally kills another, but acted out of passion or anger before he or she had time to calm down. To understand the difference between murder and voluntary manslaughter, it can be helpful to think of it in the following familiar terms:

Cold-blooded Murder vs. Heat-of-the-moment Manslaughter

According to Michigan law, both crimes involve purposefully killing someone. However, voluntary manslaughter is distinct from murder because the killer acted when his or her thinking was disturbed by emotional excitement that caused him or her to act without thinking twice. The killing itself must be the result of the emotional excitement, and the circumstances causing this emotional excitement must be so anger-inducing, that a reasonable person in that same situation would have acted the same way. If the person has had any time to "cool off" before they go perform the killing, it becomes a murder.

Instances of voluntary manslaughter often happen when a person is acting in self-defense, but overreacts and kills another person. This can be the case in domestic abuse situations where a battered spouse kills his/her abuser. The battered spouse technically acted with the intent to kill, but since he or she acted in self-defense that was "in the heat of passion," the court will likely find the person guilty of voluntary manslaughter-- not murder.

The following table highlights the main provisions of Michigan's voluntary manslaughter law.

Code Sections

Michigan Penal Code 750.321


"Heat of passion" crime

What is Prohibited?

Intentionally killing another person as a result of a sudden, violent, irresistible passion caused by serious provocation. There can't be a significant cooling off period" between the provocation and the killing orit can become a murder charge.


Felony , up to 15 yrs. in prison

More Information

For more information on voluntary manslaughter (defenses, penalties, and sentencing), as well as additional information regarding the differences between manslaughter and murder, take a look at FindLaw’s section on criminal charges.  Due to the severity of the charge, as well as the complex nature of the criminal justice system, you may wish to contact a Michigan criminal defense lawyer for assistance if you find yourself facing a voluntary manslaughter charge.

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