Similar to murder, voluntary manslaughter occurs when a person intentionally kills another person. However, it's also different than murder because here the person acted out of a sudden passion or anger before he or she had time to calm down. To understand the difference between the two, it may be helpful to think of "cold blooded murder" vs. "heat-of-the-moment manslaughter."
In Tennessee, voluntary manslaughter occurs when a person kills while provoked in an emotional way that would lead a reasonable person to act irrationally. If the person or circumstances don't cause sufficient emotional excitement or provocation, it's murder. If the person has time to cool off or calm down before killing the person, it's murder.
Voluntary Manslaughter Examples
There are a several examples where voluntary manslaughter may be more appropriate than a higher level of homicide, such as first-degree murder or second-degree murder.
One common example of voluntary manslaughter is when a person acts in self-defense, but overreacts and kills their attacker. In domestic violence situations, the victim may kill their abuser. Technically, the victim acted with the intent to kill, but since it was in self-defense during a "heat of passion" moment, the court may find the defendant guilty of voluntary manslaughter instead of murder.
Another example is when a person walks in on their spouse having sex with someone else and is extremely surprised. If at this moment, the person grabs the handgun in the bedside table and shoots both of them, the court may find that it was voluntary manslaughter. On the other hand, if the person leaves in a hurry, drinks all night, and then finds his spouse's lover alone at home and shoots them, the court may find that there was time to cool down. Thus, the crime would likely be charged as murder, not voluntary manslaughter.
Tennessee Voluntary Manslaughter Statute
The main provisions of Tennessee’s voluntary manslaughter law are outlined below.
Tennessee Code Section 39-13-211: Voluntary Manslaughter
What is Prohibited?
Tennessee prohibits the intentional killing of another in a state of passion, caused by an adequate provocation that is sufficient to lead a reasonable person to act in an irrational way.
Voluntary manslaughter is a Class C felony. The sentencing range for Class C felonies in Tennessee is 3-15 years in prison and a fine of not more than $10,000.
Even if a defendant is found not guilty of a murder, the victim's family can still sue for wrongful death in civil court. This is because civil court has a lower burden of proof than criminal court. O.J. Simpson was famously found not guilty of murdering his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman, but was found legally responsible for their deaths in the later wrongful death cases. If you're sued for wrongful death, contact an experienced personal injury defense attorney immediately for assistance.
Note: State and federal laws change frequently -- it's important to verify the laws that you're researching.
If you or a loved one are facing any homicide charge, you should contact an experienced Tennessee criminal defense attorney or public defender for assistance.
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Tennessee Voluntary Manslaughter Laws: Related Resources