Charged With Manslaughter In California?

Manslaughter is a type of homicide. It is a grave offense, albeit a step down from murder. Prosecutors often accept plea bargains from defendants for charges of manslaughter instead of going to trial for murder. With life imprisonment as a possibility if convicted of murder, many defendants are keen to “plead down” to manslaughter. You need a skilled defense attorney on your side to negotiate a good plea bargain or fight for you at trial if needed.

What Is Manslaughter?

Under California law, manslaughter is the unlawful killing of another person without malice aforethought. There are three types of manslaughter:

Voluntary Manslaughter

Voluntary manslaughter means killing someone during a sudden quarrel or in the heat of passion. Voluntary manslaughter is different from murder because there is no deliberate, premeditated intent to kill. The prosecution must prove the following:

  • The defendant was provoked;
  • Because of that provocation, defendant acted under the influence of intense emotion that clouded their judgment; and
  • The provocation would have caused a person of reasonable sensibilities to act irrationally under passion, not premeditation.

The intense emotion need not be any emotion in particular; it only needs to be one that makes a person act without sensible reflection on what they are doing. For the provocation element, if too much time passes between the provocation and the act, then the defendant was deemed to have “cooled off” and therefore is no longer under the influence of the intense emotions.

Example 1: A wife comes home to find her husband with another woman. The wife becomes enraged and runs to the bedroom closet, grabs a gun, and kills them both.

This is a classic example of murder in the heat of passion. This provocation clouded her judgment to such an intense degree that she killed her husband and the other woman. A prosecutor can easily charge the woman with voluntary manslaughter.

Example 2: Take the same scenario. But instead of going into the closet to get a gun, the wife goes out and buys a gun because she doesn’t have one. She comes back three hours later and shoots her husband, then goes to the woman’s house and shoots her too. This is not voluntary manslaughter because the wife had time to “cool down” and think things through.

In this case, a prosecutor would charge her with murder because the killing was not carried out under intense emotions that would cloud her judgment. The wife had plenty of time to think about what she was doing while she was buying the gun. And when she started thinking about and planning the killing, she was no longer provoked but forming an intent to murder her husband and the other woman.

Involuntary Manslaughter

Involuntary manslaughter refers to murder without the intent to kill or without the conscious disregard for human life. The prosecution must prove the following elements:

  • The defendant committed a crime other than an inherently dangerous felony OR committed a lawful act that might produce death;
  • The crime or act was committed with criminal negligence; and
  • The defendant’s actions caused the death of someone else.

A defendant acts with criminal negligence when they act so recklessly that they create a high risk of death or bodily injury, and a reasonable person would have known that those actions would create that risk.

Vehicular Manslaughter

Vehicular manslaughter includes murder while driving a vehicle with gross negligence or unlawfully. There is no intent to kill with vehicular manslaughter. Here are some examples:

Example 1: A man is driving but starts rummaging through his briefcase, looking for a paper for work. He hits another car, killing the driver. It is clearly gross negligence for the man to take his eyes off the road when driving, so he would likely be charged with vehicular manslaughter.

Example 2: A woman late for a dinner party speeds through a red light and hits another car at the intersection, killing the passenger. By driving through the red light, the woman violated the law and acted with gross negligence. The resulting crash and death of the passenger in the other car would likely be considered vehicular manslaughter.


Each type of manslaughter has a different penalty if convicted:

  • Voluntary manslaughter: Imprisonment for 3, 6, or 11 years in state prison
  • Involuntary manslaughter: Imprisonment for 2, 3, or 4 years in county jail
  • Vehicular manslaughter: Imprisonment for up to one year in the county jail or 2, 4, or 6 years in state prison


An experienced defense attorney will assess any defenses you may have. Here are some common defenses that could apply:

Self-defense: California refers to this as “imperfect self-defense.” You would have to show each of these elements:

  1. You believed that you were in imminent danger of suffering severe bodily injury;
  2. You believed that immediate use of deadly force was necessary to protect yourself; AND
  3. One of those beliefs was unreasonable.

For example, suppose a man is walking in the mall and sees his rival with whom he had a physical altercation the day before. The rival reaches in his coat pocket. Fearing that he is about to be shot, the man throws a knife at his rival. His rival dies. In reality, his rival was reaching for a cigarette.

The man’s fear that his rival was going to shoot him was unreasonable – after all they were in a public place (a mall) with dozens of witnesses and security cameras. Further, even if that belief was deemed reasonable, the man could have gotten out of the way – again, he was in a public place and most likely the mall had security officers stationed sporadically. Thus, a prosecutor would probably downgrade any murder charge to voluntary manslaughter.

This defense can also apply when you were defending others.

Mistaken identity: You may also be able to argue that you were not the person who killed the victim. It might have been a case of mistaken identity, or perhaps someone falsely accused you.

California Manslaughter Attorney

Remember, like any crime, to secure a manslaughter conviction, a prosecutor has to prove that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. If you are facing manslaughter charges, then you should retain an experienced criminal defense lawyer right away. You will want someone working hard to protect your rights and to place you in the best position possible given the facts of your case. There is a lot at stake, considering the severity of these charges. Remember, an experienced manslaughter defense attorney can help you understand what your legal rights are and the possible defenses that apply in your case. My Rights Law – Criminal & DUI Attorneys has extensive experience protecting the rights of the accused in California criminal offenses. We are here to defend you against your manslaughter charges. To learn more about how we can help you, call My Rights Law at (888) 702-8882 or contact us online today.