You may commit the crime of voluntary manslaughter under California PC 192 if you kill another during a sudden quarrel. Typically, the killing occurs in the heat of passion. The killer may have an honest but unreasonable belief of the need to defend himself/herself. The crime of involuntary manslaughter is a lesser offense commonly included in murder cases.
It is rare for a prosecutor to charge you with voluntary manslaughter as the original case. In most cases, this offense comes up in murder cases as a plea bargain. The defendant may accept that he/she killed a person but seek a plea bargain to have the case reduced to voluntary manslaughter. A violation under PC 192 is a serious offense, according to California law, with detrimental consequences. If you are facing voluntary manslaughter charges, California Criminal Lawyer Group will help you develop a proper legal defense.
Definition of Voluntary Manslaughter According to California Law
California law defines voluntary manslaughter as killing another person without having a valid legal reason to do so. You may face charges for voluntary manslaughter if you act with a conscious disregard of human life and kill another person.
When unlawfully kill another person in California, you may face murder or voluntary manslaughter charges. Whether you face voluntary manslaughter or murder charges will depend on whether you acted in malice aforethought. You might be guilty of acting in malice aforethought if you had expressed malice or intention to kill. Malice aforethought may also apply if you act with implied malice or wanton disregard of human life. If you kill another individual or fetus by acting with malice aforethought, you may face murder charges.
Voluntary manslaughter charges apply if you kill another person in the heat of passion. The prosecutor charges you with voluntary manslaughter by presuming that you acted without malice. Therefore, if you are facing murder charges and your attorney can prove that you did not act with malice aforethought, the court may reduce your charges to voluntary manslaughter.
Killing a person in the heat of passion means that at the time you committed the killing, you were provoked. It means that you acted rashly due to the provocation. When the killing occurred, you were intoxicated with significant emotion that impeded your judgment and your reasoning.
For you to have acted in the heat of passion, the provocation you faced should have forced an average person to act the way you acted. It should be evident that the provocation was adequate to impede your judgment and reasoning.
In the context of California law, the heat of passion refers to an intense or violent emotion that may cause you to impulsively. It means that at the time you killed the victim, you had not had enough time to cool off from the provocation. It means that at the time you committed the offense, you had not regained your ability to think rationally. If you kill a person after cooling off from provocation and after resuming your rational thinking and reasoning, you may face murder charges. It would imply that you implemented a premeditated murder.
The California law is not clear on what qualifies as sufficient provocation. However, the law clarifies that provocation may vary in intensity. Provocation may be either remote or slight. The provocation must be reasonable and should cause a regular person to respond and act emotionally instead of logically. The fact that you acted in the heat of passion is only justifiable if a standard person would have acted the same as you under similar circumstances.
Examples of Voluntary Manslaughter Charges
In the past, courts in California have ruled that the defendants had adequate provocation in some instances. Therefore, in these cases, even if the defendants had killed other people, the courts maintained that the defendants were guilty of voluntary manslaughter instead of murder. Some of these cases are:
The Defendant Who was Confronted by an Angry Mob
In the case of People v. Breverman, a group of young men armed with weapons and portraying a violent intent trespassed upon the property of the defendant. The youths were behaving menacingly. The mob was using their weapons to destroy the defendant's vehicle while urging the defendant to fight back. The cars, which the youths were destroying, were only a short distance from the defendant's front door.
The defendant fired some random gun shorts towards the angry mob and killed some of the youth. In this case, the court charged the defendant with voluntary manslaughter instead of murder. The court maintained that the defendant encountered a scenario that warranted panic and fear.
The court further outlined that under similar circumstances, a reasonable person would have acted in the heat of passion. The presence of the angry mob was enough to obscure the defendant's reasoning as he tried to scare the crowd away.
The Defendant Whose Brother was Stabbed to Death
In the case of People v. Brooks, someone killed the defendant's brother by stabbing him to death. At the scene of the accident, the people present informed the victim's brother that the alleged murderer was at the scene. The defendant got a range of emotions and confronted the alleged defendant, attacking him. However, the police were quick to break the fight.
The agitated defendant left the murder scene but came back two hours later armed with a gun and shot the alleged suspect killing him. When handling the case, the court maintained that the information about the person who had stabbed the defendant's brother was adequate to arouse range and enough provocation in the defendant.
The court maintained that the defendant had acted in the heat of passion, even if two hours had already passed from the time the defendant learned about his brother's murderer. To further enforce this statement, two police officers pointed out that the defendant was very upset while enquiring about how his brother had died. The police pointed out that the defendant was quite upset and was seeking information from all the bystanders who were present at the scene of his brother's murder.
The Defendant Who Was Provoked by His Lover to Kill Her
In the case of People v Borchers the defendant's girlfriend constantly prompted him to kill her. The defendant's girlfriend engaged in a series of events, including admitting to having been unfaithful to the defendant. The girlfriend also tries to jump out of the defendant's moving car. The girlfriend would also pick a gun and threaten to kill herself. The victim would also plead with the defendant to kill her. The girl would provoke the defendant by asking him if he was too timid to pull the trigger and kill her.
When the defendant killed his girlfriend, the court maintained that the defendant acted in the heat of passion. The actions of the defendant's girlfriend were enough to provoke the defendant.
It is important to note that some situations may not warrant a reduction of murder charges to voluntary manslaughter. For instance, if you kill a person for name-calling, giving you a dirty look or for generally taunting you may not warrant a reduction of your murder charges to voluntary manslaughter. This fact came out in the case of People v Lucas.
Provocation may occur due to a series of different events over a defined period. However, accumulated provocation did not apply in the case of People v Kanawyer. The defendant killed his grandparents, who had subjected him to ridicule and criticism over 14-15 years. The defendant accessed the victims' home and used a sawed-off shotgun to shoot the victims at a close range.
The court did not reduce the defendant's murder charges to voluntary manslaughter in the case of People v Fenenbock. The defendant killed the victim and a group of other people on allegations that the victim has molested one of the codefendant's daughters. The defendant and his allies took the victim to the woods and killed him. The murder to place two days after the alleged molestation. The court maintained that the defendant had time to execute a premeditated murder.
The reduction of murder charges to voluntary manslaughter may not apply if you are committing a crime against another individual, but the person resists your actions. The resistance by the victim is not enough to provoke you to kill him/her. If you end up killing the victim, the court might not reduce your charges from murder to voluntary manslaughter. This applied in the case of People v Rich.
Consequences of Voluntary Manslaughter
If you are guilty of violating the California voluntary manslaughter law under PC 192(a), you may be subject to imprisonment in a state prison in California. You may be subject to three, six, or eleven years. However, if it evident that you acted with malice aforethought, you may face murder charges. The penalties for murder charges include minimum imprisonment of 15 years in state prison. A murder charge may lead to life imprisonment or trigger execution.
Other consequences of voluntary manslaughter include hefty fines not exceeding $10,000. You may get a strike on your record in line with California's Three Strikes Law. A strike on your record may enhance your sentencing, especially if you have prior felonies on your record and if you get felony convictions in the future.
According to California PC 29800, you may lose your right to possess a gun according to the felon with a firearm law. Other consequences may include performing community labor or service, including roadside work. The court may order you to seek counseling services by attending anger management classes. The court has the discretion to impose any punishment it may deem necessary for an offense of voluntary manslaughter.
Fighting Voluntary Manslaughter Charges
The crime of voluntary manslaughter is a serious offense, according to California law. If the prosecutor accuses you of committing the crime, the consequences are detrimental. However, you do not have to give up. An experienced criminal attorney can help you develop proper defense and challenge the prosecutor's allegations.
Your attorney can guide you on the applicable legal defenses to help you fight voluntary manslaughter charges. Some of the common legal defenses that your attorney adopt include:
You Killed the Victim in Self-Defense or While Defending Another Person
You can fight voluntary manslaughter charges by pointing out that you were acting in self-defense or defense of another person at the time of killing the victim. The self-defense law may apply if you killed the victim to protect yourself from being killed. You may also have killed the victim to avoid suffering great bodily injury. You may also outline that you were at risk of rape, robbery, maiming, or any other atrocious and forcible crime.
The self-defense law allows you to take any possible action to avoid suffering harm. For instance, if the victim was trying to stab you or your friend, but you overpowered the victim and killed him/her, you can claim that you were acting in self-defense.
If you acted in imperfect self-defense, you might not be able to escape criminal charges for the offense of voluntary manslaughter. For instance, you may have killed a person because you believed that you or another individual was in danger of facing serious harm. You may have thought that it was necessary to use force to prevent the danger from occurring. However, the court may find that one of your beliefs of imminent harm was unreasonable. The court may also point out that you used more force than was necessary under the circumstances. This scenario may qualify as imperfect self-defense.
Imperfect self-defense may act as a mitigating factor that can help to reduce a murder charge to a voluntary manslaughter charge. However, the offense may not be adequate to relieve you of criminal liability.
You were not Aware of Your Action
You may fight voluntary manslaughter charges by pointing out that at the time you killed the victim, you were not aware of your actions. For instance, insanity may make you kill a person without understanding the nature of the act. Your attorney can defend you by asserting that you could not distinguish right and wrong.
To prove insanity, a defendant may be subject to a psychiatric examination by an experienced psychiatrist. Upon establishing the insanity, the defendant may be entitled to a verdict of not guilty. Insanity may excuse you from judgment for engaging in criminal conduct.
The Killing was Accidental
You can fight voluntary manslaughter charges by pointing out that the killing was accidental and not intentional. If you killed another personal accidentally, you might not face voluntary manslaughter charges. For you to face voluntary manslaughter charges, you must have acted in the heat of passion.
The accidental killing defense may apply if you did not have a criminal intent to kill the victim. The defense may also apply if, when you committed the offense, you were not acting negligently. The defense may also apply if you were engaging in lawful behavior when the killing occurred.
In most cases, the crime of voluntary manslaughter is a plea bargain from murder charges. Therefore, if you are facing murder liability under California PC 187, your attorney may negotiate for a reduction of the offense to voluntary manslaughter. Therefore, voluntary manslaughter is a legal defense in a murder case.
To have a murder charge reduced to voluntary manslaughter, you would have to prove that you acted in the heat of passion, mainly during a sudden quarrel. The reduction of your murder charge to a voluntary manslaughter charge reduces your penalties and your potential prison sentence significantly.
According to California law, several offenses are related to the offense of voluntary manslaughter. Most of the related offenses involve unlawful killings. Some of the offenses include:
The murder and voluntary manslaughter crimes are almost the same because the two offenses involve an intention to kill. However, for a defendant to face murder charges, he/she should have acted with malice. In the context of the law, malice is a willful or wanton disregard for human life. The crime of voluntary manslaughter does not involve malice.
In most cases, the prosecutor reduces a murder charge to voluntary manslaughter if the prosecutor believes that the defendant acted in the heat of passion. There should be evidence of a sudden quarrel leading to provocation and then the killing. In some instances, the prosecutor may charge the crime of voluntary manslaughter on its own if he/she believes the evidence against the defendant cannot establish murder.
The California PC 192(b) outlines the crime of involuntary manslaughter. The prosecutor may charge you with this offense if you kill another person without malice and without intention to kill. It should also be evident that you did not act with a conscious disregard for human life.
Most people often wonder if there is a difference between killing another person accidentally and involuntary manslaughter. The difference is that in the case of involuntary manslaughter, the defendant is often involved in committing an unlawful act, which does not qualify as a felony. The said unlawful act often involves a high degree of risk of great bodily injury or death. This means that when the victim dies, the defendant fails to act with proper caution.
On the other hand, when you accidentally kill a person, you are not engaging in illegal conduct or violating any laws. It is important to note that if you kill another person while operating a vehicle, involuntary manslaughter charges will not apply. If you kill a person using your car, you may face vehicular manslaughter charges as per California law.
For a crime of involuntary manslaughter in California, the charges include imprisonment of two, three, or four years in a county jail in California.
A driver may face charges for vehicular manslaughter for driving in an unlawful manner, which does not qualify as a felony. The driver may have acted with or without gross negligence. The driver should have exhibited the said behavior during the commission of a lawful act, which may lawfully lead to death. A driver may also face vehicular manslaughter charges for committing an accident for financial gain.
According to California law, the crime of vehicular manslaughter is a wobbler. This means that the prosecutor may choose to charge the crime as a felony or misdemeanor. If the prosecutor charges you with a felony, the penalties may include two to ten years in state prison. If the prosecutor charges you with a misdemeanor, the consequences include serving up to one year in a county jail in California.
Watson Murder/DUI Murder
If you violate the California DUI laws and kill another person in the process, the prosecutor may charge you under PC 191.5 (b) for California's negligent extreme negligence while intoxicated with alcohol. The prosecutor may also accuse you of committing an offense under the California PC 191.5 (a). You may also face charges for Watson murder, also known as second-degree murder.
You have a high chance of getting Watson murder charges if you kill another person while intoxicated with alcohol, and if you are a repeat DUI offender. You are more likely to face Watson Murder charges if you have received special education on the dangers of operating a vehicle while intoxicated with alcohol. The alternative name for this advice is Watson's advice. If you had received this advice at the time conviction for your prior DUI charges and you commit an additional offense, you may face Watson Murder Charges.
The Watson advice outlines that it is a hazard to human life to operate a vehicle while intoxicated with drugs or alcohol. It also outlines that if you operate a vehicle while intoxicated and kill another person, the prosecutor may charge you with murder.
Find a California Criminal Lawyer Group Near Me
The crime of voluntary manslaughter in California comes with detrimental charges, including hefty fines and imprisonment. If you or a loved one is facing voluntary manslaughter charges, you need an experienced attorney to fight for you. California Criminal Lawyer Group can help you come up with a proper defense. Contact us at 408-622-0204 and speak to one of our experienced attorneys.
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