The first question any criminal defense attorney will ask you when you call them about a manslaughter charge is whether the charge is for a vehicular manslaughter or non-vehicular manslaughter. In California, the rules and punishments for manslaughter are much different if you are charged with operating a vehicle and causing a death. This post is about non-vehicular manslaughter, we will discuss vehicular manslaughter in a different posting.
Voluntary and Involuntary Manslaughter
There are two criminal statutes that can be used to charge ordinary manslaughter in California. You should look at California Penal Code Section 192(a), which describes Voluntary Manslaughter, and California Penal Code 192(b) which describes Involuntary Manslaughter. The statutes are straightforward to read, but applying them in criminal cases can be complicated and requires an experienced lawyer who has actually represented people charged with manslaughter in trial.
The punishments for manslaughter cover a range of time but the maximum punishment is 11 years for voluntary and 4 years for involuntary as long as there are no enhancements(extra time) added for using a weapon or having prior “strike” convictions. You could also get probation for either voluntary or involuntary manslaughter and potentially get no jail time as part of the sentence. Although, probation sentences for a manslaughter charge usually only occur after a plea bargain with the District Attorney.
Self Defense and Criminal Negligence
Manslaughter can be charged and the jury allowed to make a decision on those charges if the facts of the case support a few different legal theories. If a killing resulted from a sudden quarrel or in the heat of passion a manslaughter charge could be appropriate. And, if someone actually believed they needed to use deadly force to defend themselves, but the use of deadly force was unreasonable to a jury, a murder charge could be reduced to a manslaughter(called ‘imperfect’ self-defense.) Finally, if a death resulted from “criminal negligence” a manslaughter charge could be appropriate.
California Penal Code 187(a)
It is rare that a prosecutor charges someone with just manslaughter, either voluntary or involuntary. Unless the facts are clear and undisputed, most prosecutors resolve the overlapping legal theories of murder and manslaughter by charging murder and having the court system and further investigation work out if that is the appropriate charge. Manslaughter charges are almost always secondary to either a First or Second Degree Murder charge under California Penal Code Section 187(a). Manslaughter can be a lesser charge than murder if the facts support it. Almost all murder/manslaughter trials fit into two categories, “I didn’t” do it,” or “I did it, but it wasn’t murder.” If the issue is “I did it, but it wasn’t murder,” a manslaughter charge is often used by a criminal defense lawyer to defend against the murder charge and allow the jury to get to a not guilty on the murder.
Defending a Manslaughter Charge
The Law Offices of David R. Silldorf has had extensive trial experience with murder and manslaughter cases. A recent case involved one of our clients facing 50 years to life in prison after being charged with first-degree murder with a firearm. The prosecutor’s theory was that our client had shot an unarmed man twice, in the chest and neck, after a minor argument in the doorway of the client’s home. The body and shell casings were found outside the home and the prosecutor believed the client had premeditated and deliberated a murder and then carried it out because he wanted the dead man’s girlfriend. There was no issue our client had shot the other man, the case involved issues of murder, manslaughter, and self-defense. After extensive investigation, using expert witnesses in firearms and ballistics, and creating a 3D computer model of the event, our client was convicted at trial of manslaughter with a reduced firearm charge, receiving a non-life term.
If you or someone you know is charged with manslaughter or murder, it is crucially important you retain a law firm that has actually tried murder and manslaughter cases to a jury. There is no substitute for actual experience when it comes to cases that are this serious, this important, and will result in life-long consequences. The Law Offices of David R. Silldorf are here to help, contact us today.