How can someone have their murder charges reduced in California? Depending on the facts of the case, there is a way.
If you were involved in killing someone else, prosecutors will most likely charge you at first with murder. Murder carries a sentence of 15 years to life, which rises to 25-to-life if you have been charged with first degree murder.
However, it is sometimes possible to see your charges reduced to voluntary manslaughter.
Prosecutors almost never initially charge someone with voluntary manslaughter, and it’s easy to see why. Voluntary manslaughter is a lesser charge to murder, and it has significantly shorter penalties. Sentences can be as short as just three years in prison.
What is voluntary manslaughter?
When you intentionally kill someone without a legal excuse for doing so, you are either committing murder or voluntary manslaughter.
What separates murder and voluntary manslaughter is the concept of “malice aforethought.” Malice aforethought means that if you intentionally meant to kill a person or acted with a wanton disregard for human life (firing a gun into a public space, for example), you could be found guilty for murder.
Voluntary manslaughter is more appropriate in cases where there was no malice aforethought. These are situations where there was:
- A sudden quarrel or heat of passion. This means you were provoked, which caused you to react rashly in a state of intense emotion that obscured your judgment, and that an average person would also act rashly in that situation.
- An honest but unreasonable need to defend yourself. You were in a situation where you felt you needed deadly force to defend yourself.
Examples of voluntary manslaughter
There is a lot of nuance to California’s voluntary manslaughter laws, so let’s take a moment to look at three examples.
Example 1: Jon is in his home. A group of young men brandishing weapons approaches his house and begin calling for him to come out and fight. They begin smashing his car, which is only a short distance from his door.
Jon emerges and shoots one of the men, killing him. Courts have ruled in the past that a scenario like this is intense enough to have murder charges reduced to voluntary manslaughter.
Example 2: Steve has suffered from decades of verbal abuse from his father. Whenever the two communicate, Steve’s father always interjects with a comment meant to belittle Steve. After some time, Steve decides he’s had enough. He drives to his father’s house and kills him.
Even though Steve felt provoked, courts have ruled in situations like these that although provocation can arise over time, general taunting or belittling comments aren’t enough to reduce a murder charge to voluntary manslaughter.
Example 3: Mandy is married to Bill. In the past, Bill has tried to provoke Mandy by getting caught in situations of infidelity. One day, Mandy comes home from work to find Bill with another woman. In the heat of the situation, she stabs and kills him.
Courts have ruled that situations of infidelity like these are enough to reduce a murder charge to involuntary manslaughter.
Penalties for voluntary manslaughter
As we mentioned above, voluntary manslaughter carries significantly shorter penalties than murder. It is a felony, punishable by:
- Three, six or eleven years in California state prison
- Up to $10,000 in fines
- A strike on your record pursuant to California’s “three strikes” law
In addition to this, you could also face restrictions on your ability to own firearms and/or be required to attend counseling services.
How to get your murder charges reduced
If you or someone you love has been charged with murder, you know just how anxious this time can be. Murder charges are very serious, so you need a serious criminal defense attorney in your corner.
“Robert Helfend is one of the best criminal defense attorneys I’ve ever worked with. He was so knowledgeable, and always made sure I understood everything every step of the way. I would definitely recommend him to anyone who wants an understanding, caring, and truly helpful lawyer.” Pat, CA
A skilled attorney will carefully and methodically work through all of the evidence and testimony in your case.
If it’s not possible to clear you of a crime altogether, your attorney can use the facts of your case to try to show that you were more likely guilty of voluntary manslaughter than murder. This can save precious years from your sentence.
In some cases, this can happen during plea bargaining. If a prosecutor accepts a guilty plea to voluntary manslaughter, your murder charge will be dismissed. In trial, it’s also possible to convince a jury that you were guilty of the lesser voluntary manslaughter charge instead of murder.
In more than three decades in the courtroom, Robert M. Helfend has successfully defended more than 4,000 cases, including all forms of murder. He is a National Trial Lawyers Top 100, SuperLawyers and Lead Counsel rated attorney. Call today for your free case evaluation — 800-834-6434.