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Voluntary Manslaughter

California Penal Code 192 PC is the statute that punishes voluntary manslaughter. Voluntary manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being under specific circumstances, especially a sudden quarrel, the heat of passion, or a belief in self-defense that, while honest, is ultimately deemed unreasonable.

Facing a voluntary manslaughter charge is challenging, and the prosecution aims to have you jailed for murder. In such situations, you might admit your involvement in the incident while simultaneously seeking to lower the charge to voluntary manslaughter.

If you or a loved one is facing a voluntary manslaughter charge in Pasadena, speaking with an experienced criminal attorney is ideal. At Pasadena Criminal Attorney, we boast a team of highly skilled and committed lawyers with extensive experience handling various homicide cases throughout California.

Our capabilities encompass a thorough investigation of the facts surrounding voluntary manslaughter cases, adept negotiation with prosecuting attorneys, and the presentation of solid defenses during trial. When you work with us, you take a crucial step towards protecting your freedom and reputation.

California Law Definition of Voluntary Manslaughter

In California, voluntary manslaughter could happen in two scenarios, including:

  • Sudden Quarrel or Heat of Passion

This scenario is where intense emotions lead to a hasty and emotional reaction. You are provoked, and that provocation causes you to act rashly, driven by intense emotions that cloud your judgment. Importantly, this provocation should be of the sort that would make an average person act in a similarly emotional, rather than rational, manner.

  • Unreasonable Self-Defense

Here, it is all about belief in self-defense. If you had an honest but unreasonable belief that you needed to act in self-defense, and this belief led to killing someone else, it could be considered voluntary manslaughter.

Voluntary manslaughter does not involve malice aforethought, an element in murder cases. Instead, it is about the circumstances and the state of mind at the time of the incident.

Crime Elements that the Prosecutor Must Prove

Before the court can find you guilty, the prosecutor must prove certain elements, including:

  • The victim provoked you.
  • Because of the provocation, you acted rashly. The emotional buildup resulted in an obscure judgment.
  • An average person would act rashly if provoked or in a similar situation as yours.

Legal Definitions

  • “Heat of passion”

“Heat of passion” is an intense or violent motion that causes someone to act on impulse. If you had plenty of time to cool off between when you were provoked and when you killed the victim, the court could find you guilty of murder instead of manslaughter. This is because you have enough time to regain your ability to think rationally. The court considers your crime a deliberate one.

  • Manslaughter

California PC 192 defines manslaughter as unlawfully killing someone else without malice. Under the law, “malice aforethought” happens when you act with either:

  1. An intent or premeditation to unlawfully kill someone. This is called “express malice.”
  2. A wanton disregard for human life. This is also called “implied malice.”

Examples of Voluntary Manslaughter Cases

You understand voluntary manslaughter when you have a few examples. They include:

  • Using Lethal Force Against an Unarmed Pickpocketer. For example, if you respond to an unarmed pickpocketer with deadly force, it could result in a voluntary manslaughter charge if it can be proven that your reaction was excessive and unreasonable.
  • Heated Passion in Court. If you are in a courtroom and the murder suspect of your beloved relative smirks at you and, in a moment of heated passion, you act violently, resulting in their death, your act could be considered voluntary manslaughter.
  • Discovering Infidelity. For example, you walk in on your spouse cheating, and you stab them in a sudden rage. In this case, the intense emotions and impulsive actions might result in a voluntary manslaughter charge.
  • Protecting a Child. A parent might unreasonably believe that someone is a threat to their child and take extreme measures in defense. If this leads to a loss of life, it could fall under voluntary manslaughter.
  • Excessive Force in Self-Defense. Consider a scenario where you respond with excessive lethal force in what you perceive as self-defense during a physical altercation. If your actions result in someone else’s death, this could result in a manslaughter charge if it is determined that your actions were unreasonable.
  • Assisting in Suicide. Assisting someone else in ending their life, even with their consent, is considered voluntary manslaughter under certain circumstances.
  • Responding to "Fighting Words". Responding to provocative or offensive language with deadly force could lead to voluntary manslaughter charges.

Legal Defenses to Penal Code 192 Charges

Navigating a voluntary manslaughter charge is a complex and serious matter. To mount an effective defense, you need to understand your options and seek help from a qualified lawyer. Below are defense strategies you could employ:

Self-Defense/ Defense of Others

California self-defense laws provide a legal framework for suspects to defend themselves and others when faced with imminent danger. In California, you have the inherent right to protect yourself and others from harm. This includes the right to use deadly force when you believe it is necessary to prevent the following:

  • Being killed.
  • Suffering great bodily injury.
  • Becoming the victim of rape, maiming, robbery, or other violent offenses.

However, self-defense, even when it involves the use of deadly force, must be reasonable. Under California law, "reasonable" means that a prudent and cautious person facing the same circumstances would have taken similar actions to protect themselves or others.

When using self-defense or the defense of others as your strategy, a well-structured defense hinges on gathering and presenting compelling evidence. Evidence could include:

  • Video Surveillance Footage. Video evidence can be a powerful tool to provide a clear visual record of the events leading up to and during the incident. The footage could help establish the threat you faced.
  • Eyewitness Accounts. Witness testimonies can corroborate your version of events. Eyewitnesses who can attest to the imminent danger or the aggressive actions of the other party can strengthen your defense.
  • Medical Records. If you sustained injuries during the incident, medical records can be evidence of the harm you sought to prevent. They can also support the claim that you have been attacked.
  • Expert Testimony. Sometimes, expert witnesses may be called upon to provide professional opinions on the reasonableness of your actions. Their testimony can carry significant weight in court.

You can employ self-defense or the defense of others if you demonstrate that you reasonably believed that using deadly force was necessary to prevent the specified harm. This often requires a detailed reconstruction of the events leading up to the incident and a careful presentation of the evidence that justifies your actions

The Insanity Defense

The insanity defense involves arguing that, at the time of the alleged crime, you were legally insane and, as a result, should not be held criminally responsible for your actions. You need to first understand "legal insanity" before you can understand the insanity defense. Under California law, you are considered legally insane if you meet the following requirements:

  • You did not understand the nature of their criminal act.
  • You did not understand that what they were doing was morally wrong.

This legal definition is often referred to as the "McNaghten rule." It forms the basis for assessing whether a defendant can successfully argue insanity as a defense.

The success of an insanity defense often depends on the testimony of expert witnesses. Expert witnesses are called upon to evaluate your mental state during the alleged crime and to provide expert opinions in court.

Proving legal insanity can be a complex endeavor. It often involves thoroughly examining your mental health history, behavior leading up to the incident, and the circumstances surrounding the crime. Due to a mental disorder or condition, you cannot comprehend the nature of your actions or the wrongfulness of those actions. Judges and juries tend to place considerable weight on the testimony of expert witnesses in insanity defense cases.

The insanity defense is often seen as a last resort in criminal cases. Successfully arguing insanity can result in the defendant being committed to a mental health facility rather than serving a traditional prison sentence.

Accidental Killing

You employ this defense when the death in question was not the result of intentional harm, but rather an unintended and unfortunate outcome. To employ accidental killing as a defense, you must establish that there was no criminal intent to cause harm. In other words, the act leading to the death was not premeditated or done with malicious intent.

Accidental killing relies on proving that you did not act negligently during the incident. Negligence implies a disregard for the safety of others, which must be absent in accidental killing cases. You also must prove that you engaged in lawful behavior during the accidental killing.

Gathering and presenting compelling evidence is paramount to building a robust defense based on accidental killings. If available, video evidence can be instrumental in demonstrating that the actions leading to the death were accidental and not the result of criminal intent.

Witness accounts can corroborate the accidental nature of the incident. Eyewitnesses who can attest that the person responsible was not acting recklessly or with malice can bolster this defense. If there were injuries sustained during the incident, medical records can be used to show that the injuries were not purposely inflicted and were, in fact, the result of an accidental event.

The core of the defense relies on demonstrating that there was no criminal intent or malice in the actions leading to the death. This often necessitates a careful reconstruction of the events leading up to the incident and a presentation of evidence supporting the event's accidental nature.

Possible Sentencing, Punishment, And Penalties For Voluntary Manslaughter In California

Voluntary manslaughter is a serious offense, and the penalties depend on the circumstances of your case. In California, voluntary manslaughter is classified as a felony. The sentencing options for voluntary manslaughter in California include:

  • Probation with Up to One Year in County Jail. The court may grant probation as part of the sentence. However, even with probation, you may still be required to serve up to one year in county jail.
  • Up to 11 Years in State Prison.
  • A maximum fine of up to $10,000.

Comparatively, murder, a distinct and more severe offense, carries harsher penalties in California. For example, first-degree murder can lead to a prison sentence of 25 years to life, while second-degree murder carries a sentence of 15 years to life.

Other Consequences

A conviction for voluntary manslaughter can have additional legal consequences, such as:

  • Potential Strike on Your Record. ​​California has a "three-strikes" law, and a voluntary manslaughter conviction can count as one of these strikes. Accumulating three strikes can result in significantly enhanced penalties.
  • Loss of Firearm Rights. A conviction for voluntary manslaughter can result in losing your right to own or possess firearms under California's "felon with a firearm" law.
  • Community Service and Counseling. The court may impose community service or order you to attend counseling services, such as anger management classes.

Related Crimes to Voluntary Manslaughter, California PC 192

In criminal law, it is common to encounter related offenses that share similarities with the primary crime under consideration. In the context of voluntary manslaughter, there are several related crimes. However, these crimes have distinct elements, penalties, and defenses, but they all fall within the broader category of homicide and can be connected to voluntary manslaughter cases. Below, you will read an overview of some of these related crimes:

Murder, Under California PC 187

Murder, as defined under Penal Code 187, is one of the most closely related crimes to voluntary manslaughter. While both murder and voluntary manslaughter involve the unlawful killing of a human being, they differ in terms of intent and circumstances.

Murder typically requires premeditation, the intent to kill (express malice), or a wanton disregard for human life (implied malice). In contrast, voluntary manslaughter involves a killing that occurs during a sudden quarrel, in the heat of passion, or based on an unreasonable but good faith belief in self-defense.

Murder convictions can result in severe penalties, including 15 years to life in California state prison for second-degree murder and 25 years to life for first-degree murder. Defenses to murder charges may include self-defense, mistaken identity, alibi, or the insanity defense.

Attempted Murder, Under California PC 664/187a

Attempted murder is outlined in Penal Code 664/187a. The offense deals with the planning and execution of an attempt to kill someone. While the intended victim may not die, attempting to take a life is a serious offense.

You face a felony charge if arrested for attempted murder. You receive half the sentencing that you would receive if convicted of a PC 187 violation. If convicted of first-degree attempted murder, you could face life imprisonment with the possibility of parole.

You must serve at least 15 years if you kill someone on duty, such as a firefighter, peace officer, or another protected person. Your offense is considered second-degree murder if the attempted murder is not first-degree murder. The attempt should not be deliberate or premeditated. You could face a prison sentence of 5, 7, or 9 years if found guilty.

Involuntary Manslaughter, Under California PC 192b

Involuntary manslaughter, governed by Penal Code 192b, is distinct from voluntary manslaughter. It involves causing the death of another person without intent while committing a crime that is not inherently dangerous or engaging in a lawful act that might produce death. If convicted, you will serve 2, 3, or 4 years in prison or jail, a fine not exceeding $10,000, or both.

Examples of events leading to involuntary manslaughter charges are:

  • You steal a motorcycle that your neighbor has left outside of their house. When fleeing on the motorcycle, you hit a pedestrian, who succumbed to severe injuries. The court could convict you of theft and a PC 192b violation.
  • Jane and Solomon have been married for four years. One day, they fight because of house chores. Jane takes her gun and waves at Solomon. As she shouts, she accidentally pulls the trigger, killing Solomon. In this case, Jane receives “brandishing a weapon” and involuntary manslaughter charges.
  • A female factory worker asks her supervisor to release her as she feels tired and weak, but the supervisor refuses. As the female worker performed her duties, she collapsed and was announced dead upon reaching the hospital. The supervisor could be charged with involuntary manslaughter and an employment law violation.

Vehicular Manslaughter, Under California PC 192c

California PC 192c provides for vehicular manslaughter. The offense happens when driving a vehicle, which is a form of negligent homicide. For the prosecution to secure a conviction for this offense, the following elements must typically be proven:

  1. A direct causal link between your negligence or illegal driving and the victim's death. It must be shown that your actions directly led to the fatal outcome.
  2. Your driving behavior must meet the criteria for negligence or involve illegal driving. This often means demonstrating that you operated a vehicle recklessly, carelessly, or unlawfully, such as by excessive speeding, running a red light, or driving under the influence.
  3. There must be evidence confirming the death of another person as a result of your driving behavior.
  • Vehicular Manslaughter With Gross Negligence

Penal Code 192(c)(1) describes vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence. The elements of this crime are:

  1. You committed a misdemeanor or a lawful act in a way that could cause death.
  2. Your act poses a threat to human life.
  3. The act involved gross negligence.
  • Misdemeanor Vehicular Manslaughter

Penal Code 192(c)(2) punishes misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter. The elements are similar to vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, except for this crime, you act with ordinary negligence instead of gross negligence. Ordinary negligence means you did not exercise reasonable care to avoid foreseeable harm to another person.

Vehicle manslaughter for financial gain is a special form of vehicular manslaughter. The crime happens if you willfully and knowingly cause a car accident. When you cause the crash, you intend to make a false insurance claim for financial gain. The collision must have caused death to warrant a conviction.

Watson murder, Under California PC 187

"Watson Murder" originates in the California Supreme Court case People v. Watson, which set a legal precedent. Also called DUI murder, this crime is considered a second-degree murder in California. You could be charged if you have a prior DUI conviction that caused someone else’s death by drunk driving.

To convict you of DUI Murder in California, the prosecution must establish three key elements, namely:

  • You committed an intentional act that led to someone's death, which, in this context, means driving while drunk or drugged.
  • In this case, the act's natural consequences, driving under the influence, must be proven dangerous to human life.
  • You knowingly acted with conscious disregard for the danger associated with their actions, specifically the risk of causing a death.

Unlike first-degree murder, there is no need to prove intent to kill. Instead, the prosecution must demonstrate "implied malice," indicating that the driver consciously ignored the hazards of drunk driving.

Find a California Criminal Lawyer Group Near Me

Facing voluntary manslaughter charges in Fresno can be an overwhelming experience. When you are confronted with voluntary manslaughter charges, you want to seek the counsel of a defense attorney. A seasoned attorney's presence can impact the outcome if your case progresses to trial.

At Pasadena Criminal Attorney, our team boasts a wealth of experience, ensuring your constitutional rights are upheld and you are treated fairly at every step of the legal journey. We evaluate the evidence against you, identify potential loopholes in the prosecution's case, and build solid defense strategies.

Our mastery of the law and courtroom finesse are assets that will fortify your defense, all in pursuit of the most favorable resolution possible. We comprehend the gravity of your situation and are committed to providing you with unwavering support throughout this challenging journey. You can contact us at 626-689-2277 for a consultation.


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