When in the heat of passion, you could do things that could land you in trouble with the law. For example, if you are in an intense argument with someone, and you strike him or her, you could be charged with murder if the person dies.

Voluntary manslaughter is a lesser offense compared to murder. Nonetheless, the offense still has severe consequences. The Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer helps you fight charges of voluntary manslaughter and murder by presenting competent services and defense strategies.

We are committed to getting the best from every case. Therefore, we work closely with our team members to achieve the common goal of defending you.

An Overview of Voluntary Manslaughter

When you kill another person or are suspected of killing him or her, the prosecution will charge you with murder. Murder is a serious crime that involves intentionally killing another person. The prosecution must prove that you acted with malice aforethought – meaning that you acted on killing the victim.

However, if the prosecution cannot prove malice aforethought, it will reduce the offense to voluntary manslaughter. Your attorney could also negotiate that a murder charge is reduced to voluntary manslaughter (a common scenario in murder defense).

Voluntary manslaughter (PC 192 a) occurs without prior intent of the offender to kill the victim. It occurs due to an instant provocation of the offender by the victim. A provocation occurs when someone does or says something that provokes you to a level where you act impulsively.

Most of the voluntary manslaughter cases occur when:

  • You kill someone in self-defense but use more force than is necessary therefore killing the victim (imperfect self-defense)
  • You kill a person in the heat of passion
  • Due to sudden quarrel

Voluntary manslaughter is still a felony but has lesser sentencing and a possibility of early release on parole. The elements of the offense include:

  • You kill another person intentionally
  • You act with a conscious indifference to human life

Sudden quarrels are the common cause of voluntary manslaughter charges. If you killed someone in a sudden quarrel, you must prove the following:

  • The victim provoked you
  • You acted rashly due to the provocation (you were under an intense emotion that affected your judgment)
  • An average person under your circumstances would have acted rashly without reasoning

The prosecution must also establish the amount of time between the provocation and the murder. Voluntary manslaughter occurs when you react impulsively to an immediate provocation. However, if you have time to cool off to a level where you can think rationally, but still kill the person who provoked you, you will be guilty of murder. Let's consider the following examples:

Jake sees three armed men trespassing into his property. They threaten to kill Jake and start destroying his property. In fear, Jake shoots at the men and kills two of them.

In the example, Jake can argue that he did not have a prior intent to kill the men. He acted in the heat of passion and response to the fear instilled in him by the men. He can also use the defense of self-defense since a reasonable person would fear for his or her life under those circumstances.

Suppose that another defendant finds his girlfriend cheating on him with another man. He is angry but leaves the two. He goes home to get weapons and a change of clothes. He then lures the girlfriend into a deserted area and kills her. The defendant will be charged with murder since the steps he took show malice aforethought.

The provocation must always come from the victim for you to be charged with voluntary manslaughter. Any outside influences cannot be the reason for your provocation. For example, if you kill a person’s child because his or her father provoked you, you have committed murder.

The consequences of voluntary manslaughter include incarceration and fines. If you are convicted, you face the following penalties:

  • A state prison incarceration term of three, six or eleven years
  • A strike on your record (voluntary manslaughter is a felony in California)
  • A fine of up to $10,000
  • Loss of firearm rights
  • Community service

Legal Defenses

The prosecution brings charges against you by looking at one side of the story. They create theories that point to you as the villain. As grim as that sounds, you can still fight these charges and let your side of the story be heard.

The first step you should take is hiring a competent criminal defense attorney who has worked with defendants facing murder charges. Such an attorney can identify the mistakes or details that the prosecution overlooks.

An attorney can begin with your side of how the killing happened and whether you were involved. He or she will then start examining witnesses, revisiting the scene of the offense, and consulting with expert witnesses. He or she will then come up with the defense strategy that fits your situation. 

Here are some common defenses to voluntary manslaughter:

1. Self-defense

The law allows you to defend yourself from any harm that could threaten you or another person. California goes further to allow a person to “stand their ground” even if he or she can escape the danger.

It is not enough to say that you killed someone in self-defense. You must prove that:

  • You believed that you or another person were in imminent danger of harm or death
  • The belief was reasonable
  • You had a reasonable belief that the use of force was necessary
  • The force you used was reasonable under the circumstances

The prosecution will then have the burden of proving that you did not act in self-defense. A common argument is that you were the one who provoked the victim. In this case, you can show self-defense if you made a clear effort to end the fight. For instance, you have the right to defend yourself, if after you stop fighting, the victim still pursues you.

You cannot use the defense of imperfect self-defense in this case. However, you can use it to convince the prosecution to reduce murder charges to voluntary manslaughter.

2. Wrongful Arrest

Wrongful arrests can lead to an accusation of voluntary manslaughter even when you are innocent. You could be the victim of an unlawful arrest due to:

  • Mistaken identity
  • False accusations

Mistaken identity arises when the witnesses wrongfully identify you, or your features resemble those of the offender. The first step your attorney takes if you are the victim of mistaken identity is to cross-examine witnesses, identify alibis, and gather other relevant information.

For example, if you were arrested for being on the crime scene and looking suspicious, your attorney could request video footage from the surrounding areas. He or she can also interview the arresting officer to establish the reasons for your arrest.

False accusations are another common cause of wrongful arrests. Someone could accuse you of killing the victim to cover his or her tracks or get revenge. However, you can fight false accusations by providing an alibi of your whereabouts at the time of the incident.

Your lawyer will also interview the person who linked you to the offense to get their side of the story. Your attorney will then investigate any loopholes he or she finds in the testimony.

3. Forced Confession

You could be forced to confess to a crime by a police officer or another party interested in the case. The court does not allow any testimony from a coerced confession to be used in court. Forced coercion is one obtained by:

  • Threatening the victim or his or her family
  • Torturing the victim into admitting that he or she committed the crime
  • Denying the victim food and water
  • Interrogations that continue after you assert your Miranda rights
  • Promises of leniency if you admit to committing the crime

A voluntary confession to committing the offense will result in a conviction, or perhaps a reduced sentence based on the circumstances of the offense. However, forced coercion goes against the ethics of law enforcement.

For instance, the promise of a lenient sentence, coupled with torture, can force even an innocent person to admit guilt, to save himself. It also preys on the fear of the defendant to have a criminal record or go to prison.

If you were forced into confessing, your attorney would file a motion to suppress the evidence. Once approved, the prosecution will have to find other evidence to prove that you committed the offense.

Your attorney will also challenge any confession obtained before the officer read you your Miranda rights.

The prosecution can reduce the offense to involuntary manslaughter; it lacks sufficient evidence to prove voluntary manslaughter.

4. Police Misconduct

Police sometimes engage in misconduct that directly affects the integrity of the case. The common instances of police misconduct in manslaughter cases include:

  • Planting of evidence
  • Removing evidence from the scene without documenting it
  • Fabricating the evidence
  • Tampering with the crime scene
  • Allowing the suspect to escape from the scene
  • Giving false testimony in court
  • Fabricating police reports

Police misconduct is a direct violation of the professional and legal standards to which these officers must adhere. Therefore, the court does not approve of evidence gathered due to police misconduct.

The nature of the misconduct will also determine the impact of the case. For example, if the police planted evidence to incriminate you, then the charges may be dismissed. However, if the officer only gave false testimony, but more evidence points to your guilt, then the court will only exclude the testimony of the officer.

Exclusion of such testimony will have an impact on your cases, especially if it was the major pillar for the prosecution’s case.

You can also cite police misconduct as the basis for requesting a higher court to overthrow your conviction.

5. Inaccurate Forensic Evidence

Prosecutors rely heavily on forensic evidence to prove murder and manslaughter cases. This evidence includes body fluids, hair, and nails on the crime scene and other physical evidence such as footprints.

Such cases also require reconstruction by forensic experts to reconstruct what might have happened at the crime scene.

However, forensic evidence might be inaccurate, leading to a wrongful arrest and conviction. Some of the reasons forensic evidence might be inaccurate include:

  • Someone planted the evidence
  • Tampering with the evidence
  • Mishandling of the evidence
  • Mix-up of samples

Your attorney will investigate the methods used in collecting, handling, and documenting forensic evidence to identify any indications of foul play and failure to follow regulations.

He or she will examine the collection, handling, and storage of the evidence to identify areas that could lead to inaccuracies. Your lawyer can also request the retesting of the samples to re-evaluate them.

In other cases, your attorney may call upon other forensic experts to help in evaluating the reliability of the evidence in proving your guilt.

Your attorney will also investigate the chain of evidence to determine how it flows from the discovery to the presentation in court. The investigation will include examining the police report and the actual evidence to decide whether or not it matches that which is presented.

6. Accident

Accidents happen every day with others leading to the death of another person. You cannot be guilty of voluntary manslaughter if the death of the victim was accidental. For example, if two people are fighting, and one falls, hits his head and dies, the other person cannot be responsible for the death.

You must prove the following if you are using the defense of an accident:

  • You lacked criminal intent to harm or kill the victim
  • You did not act negligently
  • You were engaged in lawful behavior

When you kill someone accidentally, you are not in violation of any laws. However, if you were engaged in an unlawful act (not a felony) or a lawful act that is dangerous to human life, you could be charged with involuntary manslaughter. Involuntary manslaughter has lesser sentencing since you may serve up to four years in county jail.

7. Illegal Search and Seizure

Any evidence obtained through an illegal search and seizure cannot be admitted into court. Therefore, you can challenge any evidence that the police collected without a search warrant or outside the scope of the search warrant.

For instance, if the police had a warrant to search your house, but they searched your car and found the evidence in the car, then the evidence is a result of an illegal search and seizure.

You can also use this defense if the police proceeded to search without your consent or a warrant. The law allows a search without a warrant if you give consent to the police officers. However, without your consent, they cannot search without a court order.

8. Insanity

Criminal liability depends heavily on the offender's ability to identify right or wrong. However, a person with insanity or another mental illness that prevents him or her from identifying such an action cannot be held liable.

If you are planning to use the insanity defense, you have to plead not guilty for the reason of insanity. The insanity defense applies to both temporary and permanent mental illnesses.

You must notify your defense attorney if you plan to use insanity as a defense. This is because you will have the burden of proving that you suffer from the condition. You can build the evidence for this by:

  • Getting an evaluation from a mental health practitioner
  • The testimony of your friends and family

The evidence should prove that you were insane at the time of the offense. Usually, the court will conduct a sanity hearing where you present expert witnesses to testify about your condition.

The court and psychiatrists will examine the circumstances of the offense in determining whether you had insanity at the time of the offense. The expert witnesses will provide details of the illness, the symptoms, and the effect of the illness on one’s behavior.

You cannot use the insanity defense if your condition is due to drug use or intoxication.

9. Involuntary Intoxication

Intoxication affects your mental capacity ability to make a sound judgment. It could also lead you to overreact to situations. If such an intoxication arose involuntarily, then you can use involuntary intoxication as a defense.

You could be involuntarily intoxicated if someone drugged you through fraud or malice. Voluntary intoxication, however, does not absolve you of criminal liability.

Find a Criminal Defense Lawyer Near Me

Voluntary manslaughter charges can arise as a plea bargain for murder. The charges could also arise if the prosecution cannot find sufficient evidence to charge you with murder. Voluntary manslaughter is a lesser offense to murder but is still a felony with a state prison sentence.

Luckily, you can hire a defense lawyer to fight the charges you are facing. The defense can achieve results such as dismissal, acquittal, or lesser sentencing. Your attorney could also carry on the defense to the appellate court in case you are convicted.

The Los Angeles Criminal Lawyer has handled voluntary manslaughter and murder cases for more than 20 years. We have the expertise of building solid defense strategies after evaluating the circumstances of the offense. Contact us at 310-502-1314 for a free consultation.