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Understanding what a voluntary manslaughter charge is

Being accused of killing someone is a serious offense to face. Those in Minnesota and elsewhere charged with such a crime are likely to face harsh penalties if convicted. However, in order for such a charge to stick, specific elements of the offense must be proven. Because the prosecution has the duty to prove these elements, a defendant facing a voluntary manslaughter charge could develop a defense strategy that disproves or makes it difficult to prove any of the required elements.

Voluntary manslaughter, while intentional, does not require premeditation. It could, for example, occur in the heat of an emotional moment. The events and circumstances leading up to the murder are those that would cause a reasonable person to suddenly become disturbed, either emotionally or mentally. It is this psychological disturbance that may separate voluntary manslaughter from a first-degree or second-degree murder charge.

When looking at the continuum of homicides, voluntary manslaughter lies somewhere in the middle of premeditated killing and an excusable or justifiable killing, such as self-defense. Voluntary manslaughter could result when a death happens due to a defendant's irresponsibility or recklessness, or during the commission of a misdemeanor offense. In order to attempt to avoid such a charge, a defendant needs to consider what the best defense strategy possible is. A defendant could assert innocence, claiming that he or she did not commit the crime. He or she could also assert an affirmative defense against the charge, which could relieve them of any liability. Another option is an insanity defense; however, the defendant must meet the legal definition for insanity at the time of the homicide. A defendant could also claim an accidental killing; however, this could result in just reduced charges. Finally, a defendant could use intoxication as a defense. While voluntary intoxication will likely not excuse a person's criminal behavior, involuntary intoxication could.

Facing a charge such as voluntary manslaughter is a serious situation and should be treated as such. Defendants should be fully aware of their criminal defense rights and ways they can assert them and protect them.

Source: Findlaw.com, "Voluntary Manslaughter Overview," accessed July 9, 2017

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