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As per the state of California’s Penal Code 192(a), involuntary manslaughter is a crime in which one person kills another in specific situations. In order for someone to be charged with this serious crime, the killing of the other person must have occurred in the heat of passion, during a sudden argument or based on the unreasonable yet honest feeling of needing to defend oneself.
Generally speaking, voluntary manslaughter, although a serious offense, is considered less serious than murder. At the same time, prosecutors rarely file charges of voluntary manslaughter as an original charge against a person who has killed another individual. Usually, the crime will emerge during a traditional murder case, when the defendant admits to having killed another person but is looking to have the charges against them reduced from murder to manslaughter.
In some cases, the prosecutor may be willing to hear a plea bargain in which the individual accused of murder pleads guilty to manslaughter so that they can receive a lesser charge and conviction with the murder charge being dismissed. Sometimes, a jury in a murder trial may find the person guilty of manslaughter instead of the more serious charge of murder.
As per California law, voluntary manslaughter is considered a felony that includes serious penalties. Usually, when a person is convicted of the crime, they can receive the following with their sentence:
• A maximum of one year in the county jail
• Three, six or 11 years served in state prison
In comparison to these penalties, the penalties that come with a murder conviction generally include a prison sentence of 15 years to life, or, if the individual is convicted of murder in the first degree, 25 years to life.
What is the Legal Definition of Voluntary Manslaughter in California?
In the state of California, there are two general principles that make up the legal definition of the crime of voluntary manslaughter. They are as follows:
• The defendant has intentionally killed another person and did not have a legal reason to do so
• The defendant acted without any regard for human life
Violating the murder laws in California can see a person being charged and possibly convicted of voluntary manslaughter. However, there is a difference in what the person can be convicted of if they acted with what is known as “malice afterthought.” Malice afterthought is something that is in place when a person kills another with the intention of doing so and has no regard for human life. Generally, this applies when someone thinks beforehand of killing another person. If the killing occurs during the heat of passion, the state does not consider it an act of malice, which is why certain people who kill are charged with and convicted of voluntary manslaughter instead of murder.
Possible Defenses for Voluntary Manslaughter in California
There are a number of defenses that a criminal defense attorney can prepare for their client in a trial. The following are the most commonly used:
• Self-Defense: The attorney can argue that the individual acted in self-defense or in defense of another person who was threatened. If the person acted to protect themselves or someone else from being killed, severely injured, robbed or raped, self-defense can be claimed in court.
• Insanity: This defense is used when the attorney claims the defendant was not in their right mind when they committed the killing. They did not understand the nature of the act and was unable to determine right from wrong.
• Accident: Another common defense attorneys can use is to claim that the killing was done by accident and that the individual had no intention to harm the victim, was acting lawfully and was not behaving negligently during the accident.
• Plea Bargain from Murder: Voluntary manslaughter is also a legal defense to murder. A lawyer can argue that the individual acted in the heat of the moment and didn’t plan to kill the other person.
Additional Penalties for Voluntary Manslaughter in California
In addition to the previously-mentioned penalties for voluntary manslaughter, people who are convicted of the crime in the state of California can expect additional penalties placed upon them. They include the following:
• A strike on the individual’s record as per the state’s three strikes law, which can increase penalties if the person is convicted of other felonies in the future
• A maximum fine of $10,000
• Losing the right to own or possess firearms
• Having to perform community service
• Having to go into a counseling program or anger management classes
It’s important that anyone who is charged with murder to immediately get in touch with an experienced criminal defense attorney. It is their best chance at having the charges reduced to voluntary manslaughter.