Voluntary Manslaughter

Homicide, the illegal killing of another person, is chargeable as murder or manslaughter. When prosecuting a murder case, the prosecutor must demonstrate that you, the defendant, had malice aforethought. They prove malice by showing your motives, plans, or willful participation in a dangerous or reckless activity. However, when your case lacks malice aforethought, the prosecutor will file a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter under PEN 192(a).

The prosecutor rarely files a PEN 192(a) violation as an initial charge. It stems from a plea deal where you admit to unlawfully killing someone in exchange for a charge reduction from murder to voluntary manslaughter. Even though the murder charge will be dismissed, a PEN 192(a) violation is a felony whose conviction attracts injurious penalties. If you face this charge in Santa Ana, call Darwish Law today for legal guidance and to create viable defenses. 

Voluntary Manslaughter Legal Definition

As per Penal Code 192(a), voluntary manslaughter entails the unlawful taking of the life of a human being in the heat of passion, a sudden quarrel, or based on a frank but unreasonable conviction of the requisite to defend yourself. In other words, you face the charge when you kill someone after sufficient provocation, capable of inducing a sober party under your circumstances to sudden and intense heated passion. Even if you choose to end the victim’s life, the charge will remain voluntary manslaughter unless it was preconceived.

After you deliberately disregard human life and take someone else’s life, the prosecutor can file murder or voluntary manslaughter counts. The difference between the two offenses is based on your mental state during the homicide. For a PEN 192(a) violation, the prosecutor must assert that the homicide stemmed from a sudden quarrel or intense passion. The nature of the illegal killing, normally provocation or intense passion, helps demonstrate a lack of malice aforethought, preventing murder charges.

The Provocation Element

For a PEN 192(a) violation charge to stand its ground in court, the prosecutor must furnish the court with the following evidence:

  • You were provoked by someone else
  • Due to the provocation, you conducted yourself impulsively and under intense passion that impaired your judgment.
  • A sober person in the same circumstances would have conducted themselves with intense passion

"Heated passion" means intense emotions that make you impulsive. Therefore, to face PEN 192(a) violation charges, the killing must have occurred within a reasonable duration after the incitement to show that you had little or no time to calm down and regain normal reasoning. If the window between provocation and killing is sufficient to have allowed you to calm down and regain rational thinking, the homicide is chargeable as murder. It shows the homicide was preconceived.

Examples of Voluntary Manslaughter Charges

There is no definite formula for establishing adequate provocation. However, there have been incidents where murder charges were reduced to voluntary manslaughter after the court established sufficient provocation. Examples of these charges include:

     1. Being Provoked by an Irate Mob

In People vs. Breverman, an angry mob armed with arms and revealing violent emotions trespassed the defendant’s property, exhibiting menacing behavior. They provoked the defendant by damaging the vehicle with their weapons, urging the accused to react. The vehicles being damaged were a few yards from the accused’s door.

In self-defense and defense of the property, the accused fired the gun toward the enraged mob, killing one of the young men. When the case was brought before a judge, the court preferred voluntary manslaughter charges because the accused was forced to act in panic or fear of losing their life and property.

The court also opined that a sober person under the same circumstances as the accused would have reacted with intense emotions or passion. The livid mob trespassing on the property was sufficient to cause the defendant to have violent emotions and fight back.

     2. Confronting the Person Responsible for the Stabbing of a Brother

In People vs. Brooks, the defendant’s brother was stabbed to death. When the defendant visited the scene, eyewitnesses informed him that the person who allegedly murdered the brother was still at the murder stage. The defendant, filled with violent emotions, attacked the said murderer, but the officers at the scene broke up the confrontation.

The tense deceased’s brother left the scene but returned equipped with a firearm after two hours and fired at the purported murderer, killing him.

When the case was brought to the court’s attention, the judge maintained that informing the deceased’s brother that the individual who stabbed the victim was at the murder scene was sufficient provocation to cause violent emotions or heated passion. Additionally, the judge reasoned that despite two hours passing after the provocation and the unlawful killing, the time was insufficient to allow the defendant to cool off and think rationally because he was extremely upset.

     3. Provocation by a Lover

Another case example that demonstrates sufficient provocation is that of People vs. Borchers. The accused’s lover constantly provoked him to take her life in a sequence of events like:

  • Confessing to infidelity
  • Jumping out of the accused’s moving vehicle
  • Picking a firearm and menacing to kill self
  • Begging the accused to take her life
  • Taunting the defendant that he was fearful of shooting and taking her life

When the accused killed the lover, the court reasoned that the accused took the lover’s life due to the desperation induced by a series of provocations.

It would help if you understood that not all homicides involving provocations warrant a charge reduction. For example, if you take someone’s life after they taunted and called you names, the court will not reduce your murder charge to a PEN 192(a) violation. The reasoning stemmed from People vs. Lucas.

In People vs. Kanawyer, the defendant’s grandparents ridiculed and criticized him for over fourteen years. Due to the amassed provocation that had occurred for years, the accused accessed the grandparents' home and shot them at close range. Despite the accumulated provocation, the judge failed to reduce the murder charges.

In People vs. Fenenbock, the court failed to reduce the accused’s murder to voluntary murder charges. In the charge, the accused, with the aid of a crowd of people, took a person's life after accusations that the individual had molested the defendant’s daughter. The said molestation occurred two days before the killing, which shows it was preconceived and therefore does not qualify for a charge reduction to a PEN 192(a) violation.

Lastly, your murder charge will not be eligible for a charge reduction if you killed someone else while committing an offense but the victim resisted. The victim’s resistance is an insufficient provocation to take someone’s life. The court raised the reasoning in People vs. Rich.

Voluntary Manslaughter Sentence

When the court finds you guilty of voluntary manslaughter, the penalties you will face upon sentencing are:

  • Probation with no more than twelve months of jail incarceration
  • Thirty-six, seventy-two, or one hundred and thirty-two months in prison
  • A strike on your criminal record
  • A maximum monetary court fine of $10,000
  • Loss of gun ownership rights
  • Community labor services
  • Restitution
  • Mandatory counseling that involves anger management lessons

The addition of a strike to your criminal record will result in sentence enhancement if you have a felony record or if you are sentenced to a felony in the future.

Voluntary Manslaughter Viable Defenses

Voluntary manslaughter is a severe crime whose conviction can lead to detrimental and life-changing consequences. Nevertheless, a charge does not make you guilty of the offense. With the help of experienced Darwish Law attorneys, you can create viable defenses to contest the charges.

The defense strategies to be used in your case depend on the circumstances. The defenses your attorney will apply based on the nature of your case are:

You Acted in Self-Defense or Defense of Others

You can challenge the charges against you by claiming you were defending yourself, which involves taking the life of another while fatally defending yourself or others. You can use this defense strategy when you kill another person while reasonably believing you are protecting yourself, but the belief is deemed unreasonable and unjustified. If you use proportionate and reasonable force to repel the threat, the homicide will be justified.

California's self-defense statutes allow you to utilize reasonable force in self-defense or the defense of others if you truly believe that you or someone else is in imminent danger and that force is needed to end the threat. You utilized reasonable force levels in defense. Although imperfect self-defense will not protect you from the criminal liability of killing, it will mitigate your charges from murder to voluntary manslaughter.

Self-defense or defense of others is only justified when you end someone’s life defending yourself or others from the inevitable danger of sustaining great bodily injury, being raped, maimed, robbed, or killed.

Homicide is only justified if it happens when defending yourself or others. Further, during the murder, you should have reasonably believed that you or someone else was in imminent danger of being killed immediately. If you fear that somebody is planning to take your life, you cannot kill them and claim that you were defending yourself from the danger of being killed by the deceased. You cannot justify homicide in these situations.

You were Lawfully Insane during the Killing

Your defense attorney can challenge the charges against you by arguing that you were lawfully insane and did not recognize that your action was criminal or morally wrong. Your attorney will need a psychiatric report from a government-recognized psychiatrist. If the report shows you were unaware of your activities during the homicide, the court will not find you guilty. Instead, they will vindicate you from the charges.

Accidental Killing

You can contest PEN 192(a) violation charges by arguing that the homicide was not intentional but accidental. Voluntary manslaughter requires that you take a life during a sudden argument or intense passion. So, when you kill another by accident, without intent, or when committing lawful conduct, this defense strategy can help you avoid a conviction.

Plea Deal

Sometimes, you can use voluntary manslaughter to defend against a more severe offense like murder. Most PEN 192(a) violation counts stem from plea bargaining during murder charges. So, if the court wants to hold you criminally liable for murder, your attorney can negotiate a plea deal, depending on the nature of the case, to reduce the crime to a PC 192(a) violation. For the plea deal to be granted, your attorney must demonstrate that:

  • You had been involved in a sudden brawl that incited fear or anger, causing you to act impulsively with intense passion or violent emotions.
  • There was no adequate time between the provocation and the homicide for a sober person in your circumstances to cool off.

Utilizing voluntary manslaughter as a defense against murder will not prevent a conviction but will significantly lower prison sentences, monetary court fines, and other penalties.

Related Crimes

Several crimes, including illegal killing, are charged alongside or in addition to voluntary manslaughter. These offenses are:

     1. PEN 187 Murder

PEN 187 and PC 192(a) violations are alike because they entail the intention to take life. The only variance is that under PEN 187, malice is necessary where you act deliberately and with wanton disregard for the safety of others. In voluntary manslaughter, there is no voluntary disregard for others’ safety.

Although the prosecutor cannot file both crimes simultaneously, they can charge you with murder but reduce the count to voluntary manslaughter when you can prove sufficient provocation or act with intense passion. It would help if you furnished the court with proof of a sudden quarrel causing provocation and subsequent killing. In rare cases, the prosecutor can even file an initial voluntary murder charge if they reasonably believe the proof against you is insufficient to demonstrate murder.

     2. Attempted Murder

California criminalizes the act of performing at least one direct but unsuccessful action toward killing an individual or fetus.

The prosecutor proves the intent to kill in these cases by demonstrating that you decided to take somebody else's life or conducted yourself in a manner where the chances of taking a life were elevated due to the nature of your reckless action. Proving intent is challenging for most prosecutors, allowing your attorney to use lack of intent as a defense.

Also, the voluntary manslaughter charge can be lowered to attempted manslaughter when you show the court that you intend to take a life without premeditation.

     3. Involuntary Manslaughter

According to PEN 192(b), you commit involuntary manslaughter when you take someone else’s life devoid of malice, the motive to kill, and willful disregard for the lives of others. From this definition, you can easily assume that accidental and involuntary manslaughter is the same. However, PEN 192(b) is different because it involves an illegal act. Still, a misdemeanor or a legal one involves a high possibility of GBI or death due to negligence or ignoring people’s safety.

Accidental killing means you were not engaging in a crime or disregarding laws when the offense happened.

When found guilty under PC 192(b), you will face lesser penalties than the person convicted of a PEN 192(a) violation. Involuntary manslaughter is a felony, just like voluntary manslaughter, and is punishable by 24, 36, or 48 months of incarceration in jail.

     4. Vehicular Manslaughter

Many people assume that when you take someone’s life while driving a vehicle, you face involuntary manslaughter charges. Nevertheless, the truth is that you will face vehicular manslaughter charges under PEN 192(c). According to the statute, operating a motor vehicle negligently or illegally and causing death is unlawful. The prosecutor must demonstrate that your driving was illegal but does not satisfy felony requirements. Also, they should show you were driving negligently while engaging in a legal action leading to death. Causing an accident to obtain financial benefits can lead to vehicular manslaughter charges.

Killing a person while driving under the influence can also result in vehicular manslaughter charges under PEN 191.5 if you engage in regular recklessness or fail to do something a sober person would have done to prevent death.

Vehicular manslaughter is chargeable as a felony or misdemeanor based on the case’s circumstances. A conviction for a felony attracts at least two years and, at most, ten years of prison incarceration. On the other hand, a misdemeanor is punishable by no more than twelve months in jail.

     5. Watson Murder

Otherwise called second-degree murder, Watson murder is committed when you have a prior conviction for a DUI and kill someone while driving under the influence (DUI). You face this charge because you have undergone special training on the risks of DUI in previous convictions but opted to drink and drive. Like voluntary murder, a conviction for Watson's murder results in a strike.

Find an Experienced Violent Crimes Attorney Near Me

California Penal Code  192(a) recognizes that certain circumstances can reduce criminal liability and penalties even when you unlawfully take someone else’s life. In homicide, these situations could mean a few years of incarceration or a death sentence. Hiring the Darwish Law is a game changer if you want to be vindicated at trial or seek a plea deal. Call us today at 714-887-4810 for a no-obligation consultation in Santa Ana.