What Is the Difference Between Voluntary and Involuntary Manslaughter in California?

Criminal homicide in California encompasses several different charges that involve the killing of another person. One such charge is manslaughter, which is a lesser offense compared to murder. Manslaughter will be charged as either voluntary or involuntary. These charges sound very similar, but they have key differences that result in different sentencing for each.

The difference between involuntary manslaughter and voluntary manslaughter is that, while voluntary manslaughter is an intentional killing and involuntary manslaughter is an unintentional killing. While voluntary manslaughter is intentional, it is usually done under circumstances that do not arise to murder and is often referred to as a “heat of passion” killing. Involuntary manslaughter may apply when a defendant commits an unlawful misdemeanor that carries a risk of death without due caution. In some cases, involuntary manslaughter appears to be an accident. Both are serious offenses, but involuntary manslaughter carries shorter prison terms.

If you have been charged with any form of manslaughter, get in touch with our Los Angeles criminal defense lawyers for help. We can analyze your case and fight to drop or reduce your charges. Reach out to our offices to schedule a free legal consultation with our dedicated and passionate team. Call our offices at (909) 861-8075.

Voluntary vs. Involuntary Manslaughter in California

For a crime to be charged as murder, there must be malice on the part of the defendant. Malice or “malice aforethought” is the mental state required for murder. Malice can be briefly summed up as the deliberate intent to kill another person. Malice is notably absent in manslaughter charges. However, manslaughter may still be a voluntary act even though the defendant lacked the malice required for murder. Our California manslaughter defense attorney can offer more assistance.

Voluntary manslaughter is an intentional killing that lacks malice. Voluntary manslaughter is often the result of a sudden fight or occurs in the heat of passion. Prosecutors do not often originally charge this form of manslaughter. Instead, it is the result of negotiations to get murder charges reduced. Most of the time, a voluntary manslaughter charge is the result of a plea bargain. Voluntary manslaughter may be penalized by 3, 6, or 11 years in prison.

Involuntary manslaughter is an unintentional killing that occurs in connection to another unlawful act or some risky activity, but the defendant still bears some culpability. Proving a defendant is guilty of involuntary manslaughter does not require any proof of the defendant’s intent. This form of manslaughter occurs when someone is accidentally killed because of the defendant’s criminal actions or an accident like a fight gone wrong.

Involuntary manslaughter may involve a criminal act that does not amount to a felony. It may also involve a lawful activity that carries a risk of death if performed in an unlawful manner or is otherwise very risky and the defendant fails to use due caution. Involuntary manslaughter does not apply to vehicular crimes. Penalties include imprisonment for 2, 3, or 4 years. For more information about potential penalties, please get in touch with our experienced Glendale criminal defense attorneys.

What is Involuntary Manslaughter in California

Involuntary manslaughter comes from an accident or a crime. Involuntary manslaughter may be charged if the victim is killed as a result of some lawful act of the defendant. However, this lawful act must be one that carries a risk of death if proper caution is not taken, and the defendant must have acted without appropriate caution or care. For example, mistaking rat poison for sugar and mixing it in your boss’s coffee because you did not pay attention to the label of the box may be involuntary manslaughter. You did not intend to kill your boss, but your careless actions caused someone else’s death.

Involuntary manslaughter may also result from the defendant’s criminal actions. The crime must not be a felony so that California’s felony murder rule does not attach. For example, threatening someone with a gun in order to scare them away, or brandishing a weapon, is a misdemeanor in California. If the gun accidentally goes off and kills someone, you may be charged with involuntary manslaughter. Our Long Beach criminal defense lawyers can go over your charges with you and help you understand the penalties you may be up against.

When Does Involuntary Manslaughter Become Voluntary Manslaughter in California

Involuntary manslaughter becomes voluntary manslaughter when the defendant develops the intent to kill their victim. However, the intent behind manslaughter lacks the malice needed for murder charges. In some cases, the killing may be a result of sudden heat of passion. In other cases, the defendant may have had a mistaken belief they were acting in self-defense.

One such example of voluntary manslaughter resulting from provocation or heat of passion is when a person walks in on their partner in bed with someone else. The discovery of the affair may drive the defendant into such a rage that they kill their partner or the other person in a blind fury. Generally, killing in the heat of passion must be brought on by circumstances that are so stressful as to provoke a reasonable person.

Another example would be mistaken self-defense. Self-defense may only be utilized under specific circumstances. In general, you must be in fear of imminent danger, or threats from an attacker must make you believe your attacker is capable of hurting you. However, your force must be proportional to the force used against you. This means deadly force cannot be used to fight off non-deadly force. If a defendant mistakenly believed that their attacker wanted to kill them when, in reality, their attacker was playing a practical joke and meant no harm, killing in self-defense might be considered voluntary manslaughter.

Contact Our Manslaughter Defense Lawyers for a Free Consultation About Your Case

If you or someone you know has been charged with murder in California, contact our California manslaughter defense lawyers. We may be able to help you negotiate with prosecutors to get your charges reduced to voluntary or involuntary manslaughter. We may also fight your manslaughter charges. Call our offices at (909) 861-8075 for a consultation.

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