Certain situations can prompt a person to commit murder. In California, most such cases are not considered murder but are referred to as manslaughter. These charges have severe punishments and can end up ruining someone’s life if the court manages to prosecute and convict the offender. Therefore, you should seek aid from an attorney to have the case dismissed or reduced to a lesser charge. Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm can offer the best legal services in these situations.

Definition of Voluntary Manslaughter in California

Voluntary manslaughter in California is defined under Penal Code 192(a). Under this penal code, voluntary manslaughter occurs when you kill another person intentionally or act in conscious disregard for human life.

The Difference Between California Manslaughter and Murder

In California, you can either be prosecuted with murder or voluntary manslaughter. The difference between the two is the malice afterthought that applies in murder.

Malice afterthought can be explained as the requisite mental state that a killer might have to kill someone. Therefore, there must be an intent to kill, and the action is expressed through the killing. Similar to manslaughter, murderers have a conscious disregard for human life through their actions. Therefore, you might do something without the intent to kill, but still, be implied as murder since you consciously disregarded human life.

One of the leading causes of voluntary manslaughter is having a sudden quarrel or heat of passion. If you kill someone through such an instance, it means that:

  • Someone provoked you
  • As a result of the provocation, you acted rashly under the influence of intense emotions that concealed your ability to make a reasonable judgment
  • The provocation would make an average person react impulsively without due thinking, which means that the actions were provoked by passion rather than judgment

Under Penal Code 192(a), “heat of passion” refers to any intense emotions that could prompt a person to react emotionally. However, if you had enough time to reconsider your actions or “cool off,” (that is between the time of provocation and reaction), then the effect is considered as murder rather than manslaughter.

Also, the provocation must have caused or is directly linked with the act of killing another person. If the defendant cannot prove that the action was a result of a “heat of passion,” he or she cannot link the killing to the provocation.

Thirdly, the action must have happened within a reasonable time after the provocation, which means that one did not have time to calm down. For voluntary manslaughter to occur, there should not be a long lapse between the two instances in which a reasonable person would have regained senses for the action they are about to commit.

Please note, California laws have not provided the extent of provocation that counts as enough to influence an ordinary person to react unreasonably.

Difference Between Voluntary and Involuntary Manslaughter

The difference between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter revolves around the intention. Voluntary involves killing that occurs consciously due to provocation. On the other hand, involuntary manslaughter occurs when the offender does not have any intention of hurting someone but ends up killing someone out of recklessness or negligence.

Difference Between Voluntary Manslaughter and Vehicular Manslaughter

Vehicular manslaughter is an unlawful killing that occurs under Penal Code 192(c). It is defined as follows:

  • While you were driving a vehicle during an illegal act, that does not amount to felony, and you acted with gross carelessness that led to the death of someone else
  • While driving a vehicle while engaging an illegal act that does not fit to be a felony, you led to the demise of someone else, but not as a result of gross negligence
  • You knowingly caused a vehicular collision or accident to gain financially, and the situation could have led to the demise of another person or led to the death of another person.

Examples of Voluntary Manslaughter

There are a lot of examples that one can use to define instances of voluntary manslaughter. The offender should be provoked to react unreasonably. Common examples that can explain voluntary manslaughter include:

  • Finding your wife with another man having sex in your bed, which prompts you to shoot both of them
  • Provocation by a mob attacking your home, prompting you to shoot randomly at them to scare them
  • Learning about the killing of a friend or a relative and ending up taking matters into your hand, prompting you to shoot at the alleged suspect.
  • Torment from a friend or a spouse based on various events, prompting you to kill him or her as a form of revenge.

The above-stated examples clearly define that the defendants were provoked in one way or another. However, they decided to react unreasonably by the actions that follow.

Penalties for Voluntary Manslaughter in California

Anyone who is convicted with voluntary manslaughter in California faces imprisonment in California state prison for three, six, or eleven years. This is different from murdering Penal Code 187, which imposes one to the imprisonment of 15 years-to- life with the possibility of execution.

Some other penalties and punishments can result from voluntary manslaughter. These punishment and penalties are as follows:

  • The possibility of a strike on your criminal history according to California’s Three-Strike Law
  • A fine that can amount to $ 10,000
  • Loss of the right to possess or carry a firearm as provided under Penal Code 29800
  • Counseling services
  • Community services or labor services like CAL-TRANS roadside work
  • Any other conditions that the court reasonably believes that it is suited to the circumstances of the case

Community Service in Voluntary Manslaughter Cases

Community service is a form of punishment that has the intention of benefiting the community that has been offended by the offender’s crime. Judges usually order community services as an alternative to fines, probation, or imprisonment.

Please note, for voluntary manslaughter to occur, one is expected to serve imprisonment for a specific period and serve the rest of the jail time in community services.

For a judge to order community services in a voluntary manslaughter conviction, the following aspects are considered:

  • Whether you have a prior criminal record or not
  • Whether you pose any threat to the society upon your release
  • Whether you are capable of complying to the rules and regulations provided for your community service
  • Restitution of the affected people

The judge has a broad discretion for your case in deciding the condition to impose in your community service. One of the common types of conditions that the judge might impose on you includes participation in CAL-TRANS works with the Department of transportation.

Please note, a sentence to community service should not fool you into dodging some of the conditions imposed on you. This might lead to the reinstatement of your jail time or worse, have you charged with criminal contempt of court or harsher punishment. Therefore, it is suitable to have an attorney to ensure that the terms provided are within your capacity.

Counseling Services in Voluntary Manslaughter Cases

If the judge is convinced that your actions were as a result of your mental health, he or she might impose you to a counseling service. The counseling is also imposed on offenders who are deemed to hurt themselves or have a high risk of recidivism.

The level of commitment that the participants have, the type of therapy, and other related factors, determine whether the treatment is beneficial.

Mandated Counseling Services

Most times, the court might order a counseling session even without a petition from the defendant’s attorney. Such situations subject the defendant to a treatment for a particular period, which consists of evaluation from an approved health expert. The defendant will also be expected to pursue treatment from a specific health facility, in which the court reasonably believes that it will achieve the expectations they have. Some examples of mandated treatment services include:

  • Emergency mental health holds
  • Treatment in place of imprisonment
  • Drug and mental health courts

Legal Defenses for Voluntary Manslaughter

Your attorney should be able to employ relevant legal defenses to help in dismissing your case or reducing the charges. There are several legal defenses that an attorney can use, but only a few can match with the case at hand. Let’s have a look at a few of the legal defenses that can work in a voluntary manslaughter case.

Actual Innocence

Claiming that you did not commit the crime is the best legal defense to any case. The prosecutor has the mandate of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that you committed the crime at hand to prosecute you. Therefore, if you plead innocent to the case and the prosecutor fails to prove that you committed the crime, then you are not bound to any charges.

Please note, this should not prompt you into interfering with the investigation as a way to prove your innocence. Such a move can lead to separate charges or harsher punishments.

Self Defense

The law allows whatever reason that might seem to be reasonably necessary (including killing) to protect oneself or another person from:

  • Suffering great bodily injuries
  • Being killed
  • Being robbed, maimed, or any other atrocious crime

Imperfect Defense

An imperfect defense is similar or close to self-defense except for a few aspects. In this case, you might have:

  • Reasonably believed to be in imminent danger of being seriously hurt or killed
  • Reasonably believe that a deadly force was within your surrounding and it was necessary to defend yourself from the danger
  • At least any of the above beliefs was unreasonable

Concerning one of the voluntary manslaughter examples provided above, the fact that you took a gun and started shooting towards them would be a reasonable defense to bring to court. In such a case, the actions portrayed by the mob show that they had the intention of killing you, hence the self-defense.


Insanity can work as a valid legal defense if you:

  • Do not understand the kind of actions that you did
  • Cannot distinguish right and wrong

In California, the M’Naghten Rule applies in determining whether one is insane or not. Therefore, your attorney must be familiar with this rule to use it effectively during your criminal case.

Accidental Killing

A voluntary killing must show intent to kill to be considered valid in a court of law. Therefore, if the incident occurred accidentally, you might use such a situation to prove your innocence. Your attorney can consider this defense based on:

  • That you had no criminal intent to do any harm
  • You were not negligent of the proceedings during the accident
  • You were engaged in lawful behavior during the accidental killing

Involuntary Intoxication

Intoxication is not a suitable excuse for committing any crime whatsoever. However, it can suit your legal defense if you can manage to prove to the court that your intoxication was done involuntarily. This can result from drugging from a foe. It might be hard to convince the court to drop your charges based on such an argument, but it is worth the shot depending on how you present it to the court.


Alibi can be a reasonable way to prove your innocence to the court. This occurs when someone tries to frame you to a manslaughter incident based on your resemblance with the actual perpetrator. The best way to make this kind of defense valid enough is by providing enough information showing your whereabouts during the incident. You can use evidence such as camera footage, cash receipts, phone call history, and any other evidence that can prove your location.


Coercion is the forceful actions of another person that prompts another person to commit a crime. In most cases, duress is initiated by people, such as police officers or anyone with leverage against the defendant. For instance, a person might force you to fake a voluntary manslaughter by threatening to do something to your loved ones. This, therefore, obliges you into giving in to the demands to protect your loved ones.

Plea Bargain

Voluntary manslaughter attracts a lesser charge compared with murder. Therefore, you can use the charges to seek lower penalties for your murder charges and have your sentence reduced significantly.

Crimes Related to Voluntary Manslaughter in California

Several crimes are related to involuntary manslaughter in California. These crimes also involve the unlawful killing of another person. These crimes include:

Penal Code 187: Murder

There is a very close relationship between murder and voluntary manslaughter. However, the main difference that comes between the two is that murder requires malice, willful, or wanton disgrace of human life, which does not apply for voluntary manslaughter.

The kind of penalties that apply in murder differs depending on whether the action was first-degree murder, capital murder, or second-degree murder. For first degree murder, the defendant faces 25 years-to-life imprisonments in the California State prison. The sentence might turn out to be a life sentence if a hate crime initiated the killing.

If the charges are based on capital murder, the offender faces a death penalty or state imprisonment for life without parole. The death penalty includes a choice of an intravenous injection of a lethal substance or a deadly dose of gas.

If the offender faces a second-degree charge, he or she faces imprisonment in state prison for 15 years-to-life. There are possibilities of increased jail time based on a couple of aspects.

Penal Code 192(b): Involuntary Manslaughter

Under Penal Code 192(b), involuntary manslaughter is the unintentional killing of someone else while committing an offense that is not inherently dangerous or undertaking a lawful action that might lead to death. The critical aspect of involuntary manslaughter is the fact that one does not have the intent to kill the other person.

In California, involuntary manslaughter is a felony and can attract a potential penalty of two, three, or four years of imprisonment and a maximum fine of $10,000. If you accidentally kill someone with a firearm or any deadly weapon and turn out to be guilty of involuntary manslaughter, this might lead to a strike conviction under California’s Three-Strike Law.

Penal Code 187: DUI Murder

DUI murder is implied as second-degree murder or Watson murder under California laws. This kind of conviction occurs when the offender had a former DUI charge and ends up killing someone while driving under the influence. Also, the charges can be termed as DUI murder if the defendant attended a DUI school in the previous offense or was sensitized about Watson’s warning concerning the prior offense.

The punishment that applies in a DUI murder charge include:

  • Imprisonment in California State prison for fifteen years
  • A fine that can amount to $10,000
  • An addition of “strike” according to California’s Three-Strike Law

Penal Code 192(c): Vehicular Manslaughter

Under Penal Code 192(c), vehicular manslaughter happens when one causes death to another person while driving a vehicle, by undertaking a lawful act that can lead to death or an illegal act that is not a felony. Please note, if you killed someone through an act that was a felony, the court might charge you with murder, according to the California felony-murder rule.

The kind of penalties that apply in this kind of case depends on the form of offense that you committed. If you committed it with gross negligence, the case is a wobbler, which implies that it can be a felony or a misdemeanor. This depends on the factors surrounding the offense and your criminal history.

If you are charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter with extreme carelessness, the consequences that follow are:

  • Misdemeanor or summary probation
  • County jail imprisonment for a maximum of a year
  • A maximum fine of $1,000

If you are charged with felony vehicular manslaughter with gross negligence, the kinds of penalties that apply are:

  • Formal or felony probation
  • Imprisonment for two years, four years or six years in the state prison
  • A maximum fine of $10,000

If one gets charged with ordinary vehicular manslaughter, the court considers this as a misdemeanor. The kind of consequences that follow are:

  • Summary or misdemeanor probation
  • County jail imprisonment for a maximum of a year
  • Fine that can amount to a maximum of $1,000

Finally, if you committed voluntary manslaughter for financial gain, the potential penalties include a maximum fine of $10,000 and imprisonment in state prison for four years, six years, or ten years.

Penal Code 191.5: Vehicular Manslaughter while Inebriated

Under Penal Code 191.5(a), gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated occurs when one commits both DUI and kills another person. Under PC 191.5(a), the grossly negligent action should be separated with DUI to make the charges an infraction, misdemeanor, or a lawful act that led to the death of someone else.

In that case, such charges carry possible penalties such as:

  • Formal or felony probation
  • State prison incarnation for four, six, or ten years
  • A maximum fine of $10,000

The court might impose harsher consequences if you face the offenses stated below:

  • Vehicle manslaughter while inebriated, both gross and ordinary
  • Vehicular manslaughter while boating
  • Vehicle Code 23152 DUI
  • Vehicle Code 23153 DUI that caused injuries

If you face the above-stated prior convictions, the kind of sentence that you face include imprisonment in state prison for fifteen years, which applies for gross vehicular manslaughter while inebriated.

Find Orange County Criminal Attorney Near Me

It is hard to face voluntary manslaughter charges. There are a lot of legal requirements that fall into place, making it hard for a defendant to handle this type of case all alone. Therefore, hiring a criminal defense lawyer would be the best thing to ensure that the right legal intervention is considered. For any case to be successful, one must find an attorney who can offer the best services. Orange County Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm guarantees the best attorney to help you in your voluntary manslaughter case. If you are residing in Orange County, CA, contact us at 714-740-7848 and speak to one of our attorneys.