Written by Canterbury Law Group

Voluntary Manslaughter Defenses Sentencing and Penalties

What Is Felony Murder

The possible defenses to an accusation of voluntary manslaughter are comparable to those that a defendant may assert in response to other homicide allegations. A person accused of voluntary manslaughter may make an effort to disprove their guilt, assert the justification for their acts, or contend that their actions did not fulfill the criteria for voluntary manslaughter.

The actual defense a person decides to assert in court will depend on the facts of the case, the law of the state they are in, and other factors, however the following is an overview of common voluntary manslaughter defenses.

Genuine Innocence

The best voluntary manslaughter defense is to avoid committing the act in the first place. The burden of proof rests with the prosecution to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that a defendant committed the charged offense; up until that point, the defendant is deemed innocent. A defendant may offer an alibi or contest the veracity of the prosecution’s evidence in order to reject the charges. The defendant will be declared innocent if the jury decides that they have a good-faith doubt regarding their guilt.


Defenses for voluntary manslaughter in self-defense operate a little differently than they would in the case of a murder accusation.

It is possible for defendants to argue either flawless or flawed self-defense when it comes to a murder case. When there is a justifiable necessity for lethal force to protect one’s life and there is no wrongdoing on the part of the defendant, self-defense is a valid defense. An insufficient justification for using lethal force, improper behavior on the part of the defendant, or both are required for an imperfect self-defense claim.

For instance, the claim of self-defense is flawed if the defendant was the one who initiated the altercation yet still needed to use lethal force to preserve their life. In a murder case, a successful perfect self-defense defense will lead to an acquittal; a successful flawed self-defense defense will typically lead to a charge reduction to manslaughter. The only form of self-defense that can be used in a manslaughter case is a flawless self-defense claim. In reality, making an insufficient self-defense claim means admitting that the defendant committed voluntary manslaughter.


The judicial system won’t hold a person liable for their actions if they were legally insane at the time of the homicide. The insanity defense is typically based on the defendant’s inability to comprehend the nature of their conduct or tell the difference between right and wrong.

Although the exact requirements for the insanity defense differ by country, they typically fall into one of the following groups:

M’Naghten’s Law
Test of Irresistible Impulse
Durham’s Rule
The Legal Insanity Test under the Model Penal Code
Accidental homicide

It is occasionally possible to prove voluntary manslaughter and so reduce the allegation to involuntary manslaughter by demonstrating that the homicide was the consequence of an accident. A voluntary manslaughter has an element of intent, as the phrase suggests. A person who commits voluntary manslaughter had the complete purpose to murder or seriously damage the victim, even if it happened in the throes of passion.

On the other hand, an involuntary manslaughter is the outcome of carelessness or recklessness. An involuntary manslaughter may have been committed negligently, but the offender did not intend to kill or seriously hurt the victim. The defendant may be able to change the accusation to involuntary manslaughter if they can demonstrate that the victim’s death was the result of an accident rather than an intentional act.

For instance, Adam and Bob may argue in a parking lot, at which point Adam, furious, gets in his car and begins to drive away. Adam murders Bob’s girlfriend when he smashes her with his automobile while being distracted by his rage. Adam is accused of voluntary manslaughter even though he didn’t mean to hit her. The charges should be dropped to involuntary manslaughter if Adam can demonstrate that it was his negligence rather than any malicious intent that led to her passing away.


A person’s intoxication typically won’t absolve them of criminal activity unless it was an unconscious intoxication (if they were drugged against their will, for instance). This is especially true for defenses involving voluntary manslaughter. Intoxication may successfully reduce a murder charge to one of manslaughter, but it is not a particularly effective defense against a manslaughter accusation. In fact, one of the circumstances under which the crime of manslaughter was created was an inebriated homicide.

The court will decide the sentence the state or federal government will inflict on the defendant once a jury finds him or her guilty of voluntary manslaughter.

The specific punishment is based on a variety of variables. The language of the law that controls how manslaughter is punished in the area is the most crucial element. Statutes often specify a single punishment or a range of punishments from which judges might select when determining a conviction’s punishment. The investigation, however, continues.

When imposing penalties, judges may also take into account aggravating and mitigating circumstances. While mitigating circumstances typically lessen the harshness of a punishment, aggravating elements will typically increase the sentence. It’s crucial to remember, however, that the judges should only take into account issues that have been tried in front of a jury. Otherwise, they run the risk of violating the Sixth Amendment’s provision of the right to counsel.

The influence of aggravating and mitigating circumstances as well as the sentencing process are covered in the overview of voluntary manslaughter sentences that is given below.

The Language of the Statute

Although genuine laws that forbid voluntary manslaughter frequently include specific sentences, it is more likely that they will instead mention a variety of possible punishments. These statutes frequently provide the judge the discretion to determine the precise sentence.

For instance, according to the federal statute against voluntary manslaughter, offenders should be punished with fines, a maximum ten-year jail sentence, or both. Contrarily, California’s manslaughter legislation is a little more explicit and stipulates that a person found guilty of manslaughter should serve a jail term of three to eleven years.

Judges in both situations have some discretion in deciding on the precise sentence they will impose on a particular defendant. At this point, aggravating and mitigating factors are relevant.

Factors that Are Exacerbating and Reducing

The circumstances surrounding the offense will be taken into consideration by the court when deciding on an exact voluntary manslaughter punishment. There are two types of these circumstances: aggravating factors and moderating considerations.

The facts about the crime, the defendant, or the victim that tend to make it more serious and hence more deserving of a heavier penalty are known as aggravating factors. The ferocity of the crime, the defendant’s criminal past, and the victim’s susceptibility are common aggravating factors taken into account by courts. The likelihood that the offender will receive a harsh sentence increases with the number of aggravating circumstances.

On the other hand, mitigating circumstances usually shorten punishments. A lengthier sentence is unnecessary because mitigating circumstances demonstrate that the defendant offers a lower risk to society than they would otherwise. The absence of a criminal background and the defendant’s admission of guilt are typical mitigating circumstances.

Procedures for Voluntary Manslaughter Sentencing

The specific steps will depend on the laws of the court that will be conducting the trial, but there will often be an initial hearing where the prosecution and defense can present aggravating and mitigating circumstances. The judge will next weigh all the relevant elements in the case, decide on a sentence, and read it aloud in court.

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*This information is not intended to be legal advice. Please contact Canterbury Law Group today to learn more about your personal legal needs.

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