Voluntary Manslaughter

A person commits the offense of voluntary manslaughter when he or she commits murder under the immediate influence of sudden passion that arises from an adequate cause. Sudden passion is also referred to as “heat of passion.”

“Sudden passion” means a feeling that is directly caused by provocation on the part of the person who is killed or by another person who is acting with the person who is killed. In other words, the acts of the person who is killed or the other person inflame a defendant’s passions. The passion must arise at the time of the offense. It cannot be the result of a former provocation. It cannot arise after the defendant has had time to reflect.

“Adequate cause” is a cause that produces a degree of anger or rage in a person of ordinary temperament, which anger or rage renders the person incapable of reflection. What constitutes adequate cause for a murder is a question for a jury. Evidence of adequate cause must show a defendant’s state of mind. Evidence of adequate cause is generally presented through the defendant’s testimony. However, testimony of other witnesses may also raise the issue.

The standard for determining “adequate cause” is based on a person of ordinary temperament. It is not based on a person with disabilities or impairments, even if that person is the defendant. However, the defendant’s subjective state is also a consideration. Although the defendant may be acting with subjective passion, the response from the defendant must be a response that would be expected from an ordinary or a reasonable person under the circumstances.

The offense of voluntary manslaughter is normally punished as a second-degree felony. It is a lesser-included offense of murder.

In some states, the offense has been abolished as a separate statutory offense. In those states, after a defendant has been convicted of murder, the defendant may present evidence of sudden passion during the punishment stage of a trial in order to reduce the severity of the offense of murder to a second-degree or a lesser felony. The defendant’s burden of proof in this regard is a preponderance of the evidence. This burden of proof is lower than the reasonable doubt standard that must be met by the prosecution in all criminal proceedings.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.

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