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The difference between murder and voluntary manslaughter

If you've been charged with murder in California, then you might have wondered what led prosecutors to charge you with murder as opposed to manslaughter. While both crimes involve the killing of another person, murder involves proving some degree of premeditation or some other type of malice aforethought whereas convicting someone of manslaughter does not.

Under California law, there are three types of manslaughter which exist: vehicular, Involuntary and voluntary. In order to prove a charge of voluntary manslaughter, a prosecutor must be able to show that the victim's death resulted either from a sudden fight or in a heat of passion.

In this case, it's the presence of some type of provocation or quarrel that causes the homicide to be considered less aligned with the requirements to charge an individual with murder and to be representative of manslaughter instead. Despite the clear instigating factor for the homicide to occur, in order to prove a case of voluntary manslaughter, it is still necessary for the prosecutor to show that the defendant intentionally wanted to inflict bodily harm on his or her victim.

Some factors seen as being representative of provocation include a mutual, physical fight between the defendant and one's victim, a family member being murdered, or a spouse discovering a partner's adultery. Although homicides that occur in the midst of these type of events or soon thereafter are considered to be representative of manslaughter, if a "cooling off" period occurs between the defendant knowing and acting on the killing, then a defendant may be charged with murder instead.

If convicted of voluntary manslaughter in California, the crime carries a minimum sentence of at least three, if not up to 11 years in jail. Potential defenses against manslaughter charges include claiming self-defense, either insanity or temporary mental impairment, or involuntary intoxication. Depending on the circumstances of your particular case, you may be able to have charges reduced or dropped altogether as well.

In facing voluntary manslaughter charges, crafting a strategic defense is key to reaching a swift conclusion to your case.

Source: findlaw.com, "California voluntary manslaughter laws," accessed April 17, 2017

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