Voluntary Manslaughter Law & Defense
Manslaughter can be classified as voluntary, involuntary, or vehicular under California law. This article deals with the crime of voluntary manslaughter (PC 192(a)). For more information on manslaughter crimes, see vehicular manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter.
The law on the crime of voluntary manslaughter is found at California penal code 192(a). Voluntary manslaughter is defined as an intentional killing that would otherwise be considered murder, but is reduced due to some mitigating factor.
For example, if the defendant intentionally kills another person (murder), but the killing was committed by the defendant under the defendant's true, but unreasonable belief, that he need to defend himself or herself (mitigating factor), the murder charge could be reduced from a murder charge to a voluntary manslaughter charge.
Mitigating factors include imperfect self-defense, heat of passion, and diminished capacity.
Imperfect Self-Defense: Imperfect self-defense is defined as the intentional killing of another person while the defendant truly believed that he or she needed to act in self-defense; however, a reasonable person, under similar circumstances, would not believe that he or she would have needed to act in self-defense. Imperfect self defense typically occurs when the defendant and the victim are engaged in mutual combat and the defendant truly, but unreasonably, believes he or she needs to kill the victim.
Note: Threat of future harm is not sufficient to reduce a murder charge to a voluntary manslaughter charge by way of imperfect self-defense. There must be a danger of imminent death or great bodily injury for imperfect self-defense to apply. For example, it is not imperfect self defense if the defendant kills the victim because the defendant learned that the victim was planning to kill the defendant's wife in the future. This would simply be murder without any mitigating factor.
Heat of Passion Defense: Heat of passion is defined as an intentional killing that occurs during the defendant's uncontrolled rage or passion. For example, if the defendant comes home to find his wife in bed with another man and the defendant immediately kills his wife or the other man, then the defendant may be found to have intentionally killed during the heat of passion.
A heat of passion defense requires that the defendant subjectively and objectively rose to the level of anger during a heat of passion event. This means that the defendant must have actually been so enraged that he could not control himself during the killing. In addition, the event that lead to the killing must have enraged that average person to point of not being able to control himself or herself during the killing.
Note: A heat of passion defense is available only if the intentional killing is immediately after discovery of the event that enraged the defendant. Also, the defendant must have killed the person that was the subject of the heat of passion. In other words, the defendant cannot use the heat of passion defense if he finds out his wife is cheating on him and thereafter kills another person not associated in any way to his wife or the person with whom she was cheating.
Diminished Capacity: Diminished capacity means that there is some internal or external mental ingredient that did not allow the defendant to appreciate the wrongfulness of the act of intentionally killing another person.
Note: If the defendant has severe mental or cognitive impairment such that the defendant could not appreciate the very nature of the act of killing, or appreciate the difference between right and wrong, the defendant may have a defense of insanity. The defense of insanity is a complete defense to the crime of intentional murder and voluntary manslaughter; however, diminished capacity is not the equivalent of insanity in California. Diminished capacity does not rise to the level of an insanity defense but rather demonstrates that the defendant operated under some mental laboring such that the killing should be reduced from murder to manslaughter.
Sentence for PC 192(a)
If found guilty of voluntary manslaughter, a defendant could face up to eleven years in state prison. Voluntary manslaughter is considered a strike under California's Three Strike Law.
Probation: A probation sentence is a period of supervision (as opposed to prison). Probation sentences are allowed in PC 192(a) cases, but they are not guaranteed. Whether or not a probation sentence will be granted after a conviction for voluntary manslaughter depends on many factors. Probation sentences may also include some work release or house arrest as a condition of probation. Finally, probation sentences for PC 192(a) crimes are monitored by a probation officer (formal probation).
PC 1170(h) Sentence: If the defendant is not granted probation in a PC 192(a) case then the defendant must serve his or her sentence in a state prison (as opposed to a local county jail), and no part of that prison sentence may be split of suspended.
Other penalties include: restitution, fines, possible professional licensing consequences, and immigration consequences for non United States citizens.
To learn more about the crime of voluntary manslaughter, or PC 192(a), contact our criminal defense lawyers today for a free consultation. Call today!
Quick Legal Reference
Crime: Voluntary Manslaughter
Code: PC 192(a) (CalCrim No. 570-572)
Wobbler: No. PC 192(a) is not a wobbler. This means that PC 192(a) is only charged as a felony.
Incarceration: PC 192(a) prison sentence range: 3, 6, or 11 years (if probation not granted).
Probation: Probation may be available in PC 192(a) cases (assuming other crimes or enhancements that bar a probation sentence are not present). Whether or not a probation sentence is offered by the District Attorney, or granted by the court, depends on several factors, including the defendant's criminal history and the facts of the case.
PC 1170(h)): No. PC 192(a) is not subject to PC 1170(h) sentencing. This means that any incarceration ordered after a conviction, that is not part of a probation sentence, must be served in state prison (as opposed to a county jail), and the prison sentence may not be split or suspended.
Strike: PC 192(a) is a strike offense per California's Three Strikes law because this crime is considered a Serious offense (PC 1192.7), and a Violent offense (PC 667.5(c). Strike offenses are subject to reduced good time credits in jail or prison and other penalty enhancements upon subsequent criminal convictions.
Credits: 15% good conduct credits available.
CIMT: PC 192(a) is a crime involving moral turpitude, which means that an arrest or conviction could lead to the following:
Professional Licensing problems
Impeachment on credibility
Firearms: PC 192(a) convictions prohibit defendant from owning or possessing a firearm.
Bail: $250,000 (San Bernardino County)
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