In most people’s minds, the distinction between manslaughter and murder charges is whether or not the killing was intentional or not. But in the legal system, things aren’t so simple as that. In fact, while involuntary manslaughter is usually a result of an accidental death that was caused by recklessness or criminally negligent behavior, voluntary manslaughter can be difficult to distinguish between murder, but generally the definition comes down to whether or not the killing occurred in the “heat of passion.” Here’s everything you should know about California Penal Code Section 192 (PC), aka manslaughter, according to San Diego lawyer Peter M. Liss.
What is Voluntary Manslaughter?
The first thing you should know when trying to understand voluntary manslaughter is that manslaughter does not always mean someone killed another person accidentally with their reckless behavior -that’s only applicable in cases of involuntary manslaughter. When not broken up by voluntary or involuntary, criminal manslaughter actually refers to an unlawful homicide that doesn’t involve “malice aforethought,” aka what most people think of as the premeditation to seriously harm or kill another person or to demonstrate an extreme, reckless disregard for human life.
When it comes to voluntary manslaughter under Penal Code 192 (PC), this generally means that a person has killed another in the heat of passion or in an example of imperfect self defense. In the heat of passion means that you acted instinctively without any thought about the consequences. The most frequently cited example of these crimes is the man who kills his wife’s lover when he sees the two of them in bed. Alternatively, if two people end up in a violent, vicious fight and it escalates to the point where one person kills another, this could be considered voluntary manslaughter in California.
In some cases, these charges are also brought up against someone who believed they were acting in self defense, but did not actually meet the legal requirements for self defense. This is known as imperfect self defense because a reasonable person would either not believe they were in imminent danger or that deadly force was required to avoid the danger. In these cases, the fact that the person thought they were acting in a rational manner reduces what would normally be a murder charge to a manslaughter charge in California.
More commonly than all of the situations above though, voluntary manslaughter isn’t what the prosecutor initially charged for the crimes, but instead a reduced charge that was settled on in a plea bargain or a reduced charged the jury agrees upon when they think the circumstances in the crimes don’t meet the requirements for a murder charge.
Penalties for Penal Code 192 (PC)
Voluntary manslaughter is punishable by between three and eleven years in state prison and up to $10,000 in fines, depending on the specifics of the case. This charge is also a strike under California state’s three strikes law, which means if it is your second strike, your penalty could be doubled and for a third strike, you could be sentenced to 25 years to life in prison. On the other hand, if you are charged with involuntary manslaughter, you will face between 2 and 4 years in jail.
While these penalties are particularly serious, they are much less severe than those for murder, under Penal Code Section 187, which carries a sentence of 15 years all the way up to life imprisonment and can even result in the death penalty. This is why your attorney in San Diego is so likely to attempt to plea a murder charge down to a manslaughter or to ask the jury to find for voluntary manslaughter as a lesser verdict in a murder trial, given the substantially lower penalties than a murder carries.
When a driver causes a deadly accident related to driving in an illegal and dangerous manner in California, he may face vehicular manslaughter charges, which can be a misdemeanor or felony. When charged as a misdemeanor, you can face up to one year in jail, but as a felony, the penalties can range from 2 to 10 years. There is an exception when the driver was drunk driving and has a previous DUI on his record. In this case, the driver will not be charged with vehicular manslaughter, but will instead face second degree murder charges.
If you have been accused of any type of homicide in California, please contact San Diego manslaughter defense attorney Peter M. Liss. You can schedule a free consultation to discuss your case by calling (760) 643-4050.