Recently in Riverside, a 17-year-old boy admitted to causing the death of his 11-year-old half-brother. According to news reports, he was initially charged with murder, but a deal with prosecutors brought the charge down to voluntary manslaughter.
Under California law, what does voluntary manslaughter mean?
First off, it's important to note that in most cases prosecutors don't initially charge you with voluntary manslaughter, at least not as a standalone crime. Many times, people plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter under circumstances similar to the case of the teenage boy and his half-brother - in order to avoid a murder charge. A murder charge can mean life in prison if you're found guilty, while voluntary manslaughter can mean, at most, a little over a decade of prison time.
Voluntary manslaughter is a crime that takes place in the "heat of the moment," as opposed to an action rooted in existing malice. You have an encounter with someone, their actions cause you to experience intense, out-of-control emotions, and you do something that causes their death. Maybe you lash out in a blind rage and kill them (the classic example is of an individual who comes home and catches their spouse with a lover). Another possibility is that you don't intend to kill the other person, but you act in a way that demonstrates no care for whether they live or die - and as a result, they die.
In general, the situation needs to involve a provocation from another person that induces powerful, blinding emotions and impulsive actions on your part.
Practically speaking, it isn't always well-defined
You might be thinking that there's still a blurry line between murder and voluntary manslaughter. And there is. What you get charged with depends in part on the prosecutor involved in your case and what arguments they're willing to accept from you.
For example, if you admit that you killed someone in a blind passion, prosecutors need to consider if 'blind passion' would be a reasonable reaction under the circumstances in which the crime took place. Was the provocation really enough to induce a murderous rage or callous lack of care for human life? Even if it was, prosecutors can still charge you with murder if they suspect you could have controlled yourself, particularly if you had some time to calm down before lashing out.
When we think about emotions overcoming judgment, and people being ruled by passion, we realize that these terms are often vague. You can examine the circumstances surrounding someone's death and come up with different interpretations for what happened.
If you're facing charges of either murder or voluntary manslaughter, and you live in or around Temecula, Murrieta, Wildomar, Menifee, Lake Elsinore, Perris, Banning, Corona, Hemet or Riverside, you need to contact an experienced attorney. Strong legal representation is crucial; so much depends on how you interpret what happened and present your case, and whether or not your arguments are convincing.