All homicide offenses in Pennsylvania are serious crimes, including voluntary manslaughter. If you are convicted of voluntary manslaughter, you may face severe consequences. While all homicides are serious, they are not all treated the same. Voluntary manslaughter is a lesser offense than a murder charge, but it still requires you to mount a vigorous defense. At DiCindio Law, we represent people who have been accused of committing all types of crimes, including homicide offenses. Here is what you need to understand about voluntary manslaughter, the penalties, and the possible defenses.
Criminal homicide and voluntary manslaughter
Criminal homicide is defined in 18 Pa.C.S. § 2501 as being the intentional, reckless, knowing, or negligent killing of another person. Multiple crimes are considered to be criminal homicide offenses, including the following:
- First-degree murder
- Second-degree murder
- Third-degree murder
- Voluntary manslaughter
- Involuntary manslaughter
- Causing or assisting suicide
- Delivering drugs that cause death
- Criminal homicide of a law enforcement officer
First-degree murder is the most serious type of criminal homicide and can result in capital punishment or life in prison without parole. Voluntary and involuntary manslaughter are criminal homicide offenses for cases in which the facts do not quite rise to the level of a murder charge. In some cases, however, a prosecutor may charge a defendant with murder as well as voluntary manslaughter when the prosecutor is unsure that he or she will be able to prove the elements of murder beyond a reasonable doubt. Prosecutors do this to try to ensure that they can secure convictions against defendants whom they believe killed people.
The main difference between manslaughter and murder is the degree of culpability. Murder charges require that the killers acted with malice. Manslaughter is an unjustified killing that does not include malice. The penalties for manslaughter are much less severe than they are for murder. Voluntary manslaughter is more serious than involuntary manslaughter, however.
Voluntary vs. involuntary manslaughter
In Pennsylvania, manslaughter is classified into two types, including voluntary and involuntary manslaughter. These two different types of manslaughter are distinguished by the intent and the circumstances. Involuntary manslaughter is found in 18 Pa.C.S. § 2504 and is less serious than voluntary manslaughter. Involuntary manslaughter occurs when a defendant kills another person while he or she is acting recklessly or with gross negligence while performing a lawful or unlawful act. Involuntary manslaughter is a first-degree misdemeanor carrying the potential of up to five years in prison and a fine of $10,000.
Voluntary manslaughter is more serious than involuntary manslaughter and carries harsher penalties. Voluntary manslaughter is found in 18 Pa.C.S. § 2503 and occurs when a defendant kills another person in a heat of passion because of provocation by the victim. It also includes a killing when the defendant is in a heat of passion after being provoked by a third party who the defendant attempts to kill but accidentally kills the victim instead. Finally, it also includes scenarios in which the defendant intentionally killed another person under an unreasonable belief that the killing is justified such as in a case of imperfect self-defense or defense of others.
The provocation for voluntary manslaughter has to be severe enough that any reasonable person would have a passionate reaction. For the killing to be considered to have happened in the heat of passion, the killing must follow the provocation without sufficient time passing for the defendant to calm down. If you are convicted of voluntary manslaughter, it is a first-degree felony that carries up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $25,000.
Potential defenses to voluntary manslaughter charges
The defenses that your attorney might raise to defend you against voluntary manslaughter charges will depend on the circumstances and facts of what occurred. Your lawyer might examine the evidence and investigate the case to determine whether it might have been a negligent or accidental killing instead of an intentional act. He or she might also look to determine whether you might have been acting in self-defense instead of reacting to provocation and if your beliefs were reasonable.
Your attorney will carefully review the facts to identify all of the defenses that you might be able to raise in your case. If you have been charged with voluntary manslaughter, contact DiCindio Law in West Chester to start building your defense. Fill out our online contact form to request a free consultation.