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Defending Against Voluntary Manslaughter Charges in California

It is not always the case that murder charges result when one human being kills another. The reason for this is because the law sometimes factors in intent when determining the criminal charges to be levied against a defendant. The purpose of this article is to explain the lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter. If you have been charged with voluntary manslaughter in the state of California, it is imperative that you contact an experienced California criminal defense attorney. With the state’s prosecutor making every effort to prove each element of the charges against you, an experienced attorney is needed to protect your legal rights.

Voluntary Manslaughter is a Lesser Charge to Murder

Murder is the most serious charge that the state can bring against a defendant accused of killing another human being. The legal definition of murder is “the killing of a human being by another human being with malice aforethought.” This definition is one of the oldest in the law, dating all the way back to the common law era in England. To the layperson, the words that jump out are “malice aforethought.” What this antiquated language, sometimes termed “mens rea,” means in modern terms is “specific intent.” Specific intent can be understood as “state of mind.” To bring it all together, a murder charge is only appropriate when there is probable cause that the defendant acted with a certain type of intent in allegedly killing the victim.  

There are, specifically, four types of “malice aforethought”:

  • Intent to Kill
  • Intent to Commit Grievous Bodily Harm
  • Depraved Heart
  • Felony Murder

Voluntary Manslaughter does not reflect any of these four types of “malice aforethought.” Its applicability is rather narrow. A charge of voluntary manslaughter is only appropriate when a human being kills another human being during a sudden dispute or in the “heat of passion.” The classic example that brings this abstract legal terminology home is the scenario in which a spouse comes home to find his or her spouse in bed with another person and, in a sudden fit of rage, kills the both of them. Returning to the concept of state of mind, intent is clearly different in this scenario than the four types of malice aforethought. This is especially the case with regard to the duration of forming the mind state to kill. “Suddenness” is key – the being caught off guard and enraged by a most traumatic sight.

Penal Code 192(a) Governs Voluntary Manslaughter in California

In the state of California, the law that governs voluntary manslaughter is Penal Code 192(a).  Conviction of the crime will result in a term of three, six, or eleven years in one of California’s state prisons. With jail time a very real possibility, it is imperative that you entrust your legal defense to a skilled and experienced California criminal defense attorney. Protect your legal rights and contact an attorney as soon as possible.