What is "voluntary manslaughter"? How does it differ 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's helpful to think of it in the familiar terms: "cold-blooded murder" vs. "heat-of-the-moment manslaughter."
According to Missouri 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 an 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 committing the killing, it becomes a murder.
Examples of Voluntary Manslaughter
Voluntary manslaughter often happens when a person is acting in self-defense, but overreacts and kills another person. This can occur in domestic violence situations where the victim kills his or 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 may find the person guilty of voluntary manslaughter, not murder.
Another common example is when a man unexpectedly walks in on his wife having sex with another man. If in the moment of seeing this, he grabs a gun and shoots both of them, the court may find that it was voluntary manslaughter. However, if he leaves, drinks for hours, and then goes to his wife's lover's home and shoots him while he's watching TV, the court may find the husband had time to cool down. Thus, it would be murder, not voluntary manslaughter.
Civil Penalties for Manslaughter
Even if a person is charged with voluntary manslaughter in criminal court and is found not guilty, the deceased’s family may file a wrongful death claim in civil court. Most wrongful death lawsuits follow in the wake of criminal trials, using similar evidence but with a lower burden of proof. Someone found liable for wrongful death may or may not be convicted of a crime associated with that death. Famously, O.J. Simpson was found not guilty of murdering Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, but was found responsible for their deaths in the wrongful death case.
Missouri Voluntary Manslaughter Statute
The following table highlights the main provisions of Missouri's voluntary manslaughter law.
Missouri Revised Statutes Section 565.023
What Is Prohibited?
Missouri law prohibits two forms of killing that are considered voluntary manslaughter:
- Causing the death of another in what would normally be considered murder in the second degree (intentional, but unplanned killing), except that the killer caused the death under the influence of a sudden passion arising from an adequate provocation, AKA "heat of passion" murder.
- Knowingly assisting another to commit "self-murder"(as Missouri law calls it) AKA assisted suicide.
Voluntary manslaughter is a Class B felony. The penalty range for a Class B felony is 5-15 years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.
A wrongful death lawsuit is possible. If you’re sued for a wrongful death, contact an experienced personal injury defense attorney for help.
Note: State laws are constantly changing -- it's important to verify the state law(s) you are researching.
Dealing with any criminal charge can be a frightening experience. If you find yourself facing any murder or manslaughter charge, you should contact an experienced Missouri criminal defense attorney or public defender for assistance.
Research the Law
Missouri Involuntary Manslaughter Laws: Related Resources