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In the eyes of most people, murder is the gravest of all offenses. The taking of a human life is a terrifying thought to the majority of the population, and the law deals swiftly with murderers after their appeals are exhausted, whether with life in prison or by way of the death penalty. While the death penalty is legal in California, the state hasn’t executed a prisoner since 2006. Just below murder is the top at hand today: Voluntary manslaughter, a lesser offense. In some cases, it looks virtually like murder but some extenuating circumstances compels prosecutors to drop the charge from murder to voluntary manslaughter. Lets take a look at the distinction between the two.
Once again, voluntary manslaughter is similar to murder, but there’s some circumstance which gives jurors the right to convict of the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter. Prosecutors in less-than-secure murder cases might also seek a guilty plea in exchange for reducing the charge to voluntary manslaughter, avoiding a trial or the scary possibility of the defendant being found not guilty of murder.
Murder in California carries a 15 years to life/25 years to life sentencing timeline while voluntary manslaughter can get you everything from probation to 11 years in state prison. The differences in sentencing are distinct. A prosecutor will sometimes drop a murder charge and reduce it to voluntary manslaughter. It’s important to understand the reasons that they might do this AND to understand that it is a defense attorney who is the person most likely to help you get this arrangement.
The differences sits in the phrase, “Malice aforethought.” With murder, you’ve planned it (pre-meditated murder) but with voluntary manslaughter, you did not mean to take another human life. Something drastic and traumatic happened that caused you to “snap.”
Several components meet the definition for this phrase:
– Intent to kill (express malice)
– Wanton disregard for human life (implied malice)
The trick here lies in the intention. Heat of passion quarrels would lack malice aforethought while a carefully planned out execution style murder would most definitely meet the criteria for malice aforethought. A criminal defense lawyer can work on your behalf to convince prosecutors to reduce charges before the trial is underway. And remember, sometimes you’re not guilty altogether. It might be a case of mistaken identify or false allegations. Sometimes you are simply not the one who acted at all. Voluntary manslaughter might also be your charge if you were acting in self-defense, defense of others.
Voluntary manslaughter is a “strike” under California law. If you’ve got prior convictions, this conviction could potentially send you away for a very long time, as long as 25 years to life (if it’s your third strike), a $10,000 fine, and the loss of your right to own a firearm, counseling classes, and even community service work. Much of the punishment will depend on the details of the crime, but above all, it’s important to note that all of these penalties are much less harsh than a 15 to life sentence that might have come if your crime had been committed with malice aforethought.
Penalties are so severe in voluntary manslaughter cases, and the impact on the community so devastating, that it’s imperative for everyone accused of this crime to have a defender. Some lawyers will take on cases like this as a matter of charity (not many, but once in a great while). If a lawyer truly believes in your case and thinks that you need justice but aren’t finding it elsewhere, they’re going to take on your case. They can’t do that unless you contact them, though.
It goes without saying that if you have been charged with murder OR voluntary manslaughter, you need to contact a lawyer. These are two of the most serious charges in California penal code and one of them, despite not having been used lately, could lead to a death penalty. Please contact a lawyer today. It’s in the best interests of you and everyone you love, especially if you have been falsely accused.