What is the difference between murder and voluntary manslaughter?

Under California law, murder offenses refer to cases involving the intentional killing of another person with “malice aforethought.” Manslaughter on the other hand belongs to a less severe branch of homicide crimes that usually deal with unintentional killings.

However, there are some cases during which an intentional killing may have the legal footing to be charged a type of manslaughter instead of murder. Under California Penal Code 192(a), for instances where the killing was intentional, but was an unplanned act committed in the heat of the moment, voluntary manslaughter may be the more appropriate charge.

Voluntary manslaughter differs greatly from certain murder charges because unlike manslaughter, which are typically characterized as killings of spontaneous passion, murders are a result of heavy preparation and extreme “malice aforethought.”

  1. What is the difference between murder and voluntary manslaughter?
  2. What are the elements of voluntary manslaughter?
  3. What are typical sentence requirements for voluntary manslaughter?

What are the elements of voluntary manslaughter?

To convict someone of voluntary manslaughter, the following elements must be met:

  1. The accused acted in such a way that directly resulted in the death of another
  2. At the time of the killing, the accused intended to take someone’s life and acted without a legal reason or excuse, and:
  3. During the commission of the crime, the accused had not done any preplanning or did not harbor any malice aforethought.

In most cases, however, voluntary manslaughter is not used as a starting off point. Rarely are crimes ever initially charged as voluntary manslaughter. Instead, many hope to reduce a murder conviction to a lesser manslaughter conviction by proving that while the killing was intentional, it was a crime of passion following some sort of trigger.

One example of such a case can be seen with the Supreme Court decision in People vs Brooks. With the recent stabbing of his brother fresh on his mind, Brooks went to visit the scene of the murder. Witnesses at the site told Brooks that they had identified the alleged murderer and that he was also present on the scene. Brooks tracked down the suspect and began to attack the man, returning later that day to shoot and kill him. After understanding the state that Brooks was in following his brother’s passing, the court decided that Brooks’ killing was committed with “heat of passion” and affirmed that the circumstances surrounding the murder were more in line with the elements of manslaughter than of murder. The court reduced his original murder conviction down to one of voluntary manslaughter, earning him a lesser punishment.

  1. What is the difference between murder and voluntary manslaughter?
  2. What are the elements of voluntary manslaughter?
  3. What are typical sentence requirements for voluntary manslaughter?

What are typical sentence requirements for voluntary manslaughter?

While both felonies, manslaughter is a substantially milder offense and hence carries a lighter sentence. For instance, defendants convicted of voluntary manslaughter may be sentenced to either 3, 6, or 11 years in a state prison. Those convicted of murder, on the other hand, face a minimum sentence of 15 years to life and in extremely dire cases execution.

In spite of these drastic sentence disparities, manslaughter remains a very serious and severe offense that is punished accordingly. In addition to a prison sentence, a voluntary manslaughter conviction could also trigger:

  • A strike on your criminal record that might enhance your punishment for a future felony conviction, in compliance with the California Three Strikes Law.
    • a fine of up to $10,000,
    • the loss of your right to carry firearms, in compliance with California’s “felon with a firearm” law,
    • a sentence for labor or community service required counseling programing (for instance, an anger management course), and
    • any other conditions that the judge deems appropriate considering the circumstances surrounding the individual and their case.