If you are facing criminal charges for murder, it may be possible to negotiate a plea to volunteer manslaughter, or convince the jury at trial that you are only guilty of voluntary manslaughter, and not murder. Voluntary manslaughter is a lesser-included offense of murder and has a much lower punishment.
At the Castillo Law Office, our Oakland criminal defense attorney Ernesto Castillo has years of experience negotiating and bringing to jury trial some of the toughest Oakland and San Francisco Bay Area cases involving murder and voluntary manslaughter. Voluntary manslaughter cases have high stakes and take particular knowledge and skill to win; you need an experienced and aggressive attorney at your side to prevail.
The best defense to a murder charge is self-defense. When the killing is done in self-defense - where there was a reasonable belief that the defendant or someone close to him or her was in danger - the defendant has a complete defense to a homicide charge. However, a voluntary manslaughter defense can also reduce the life-altering consequences of a murder conviction.
Under Penal Code section 192, voluntary manslaughter is defined as the unlawful, intentional killing of a human being "upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion." To avoid a voluntary manslaughter verdict, the district attorney must be able to convince the jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the murder did not happen because of a sudden quarrel or heat of passion. Said another way, the district attorney must prove there was no provocation due to a sudden quarrel or heat of passion. The final requirement for voluntary manslaughter is that the time between the provocation and the subsequent killing must be short enough that there was no time to cool off. A long period of time to cool off after the provocation will eliminate voluntary manslaughter as an option.
A voluntary manslaughter conviction is a much better result than a first or second-degree murder conviction. Second-degree murder is punished, at minimum, by a sentence of 15 years to life in prison, and first-degree murder is punished by a minimum sentence of 25 years to life in prison. First-degree murder is also eligible for the death penalty. Even if a person serves 25 years in prison on a first-degree murder conviction, there is no guarantee that the parole board will let the person out of prison at that time. In contrast, voluntary manslaughter is only punishable by a state prison sentence of three, six, or eleven years. Beyond the benefit of a much shorter sentence, since there is no life in prison term there is no need to worry about a hearing with the parole board.
The key to a voluntary manslaughter case is developing the facts for "a sudden quarrel or heat of passion." A recent case, People v. People v. Franklin (2014) (2014) in the First District Court of Appeal, the appellate court that decides appeals cases for Alameda County, Contra Costa County, and San Francisco County, outlined the standard for voluntary manslaughter, found in California jury instruction CalCrim 570:
The provocative conduct by the victim may be physical or verbal, but the conduct must be sufficiently provocative that it would cause an ordinary person of average disposition to act rashly or without due deliberation and reflection." (People v. Lee (1999) 20 Cal.4th 47, 59.)
In Franklin, the victim, a rival gang member, cussed at the brother of Franklin and Franklin himself. This was insufficient provocation. In addition, although the victim's gang had harassed Franklin in the past, there was no proof that the victim was involved in the harassment, and the harassment had occurred a long time before the swear words, so there was time to cool off. The case could have been eligible for voluntary manslaughter if the victim had been involved in prior attacks on the defendant or his family, and if the victim had insulted the defendant in a more harsh manner.
As shown above, a voluntary manslaughter charge is very fact sensitive, and can involve a number of different scenarios, like discovering a lover who is cheating, being threatened with violence, or being the victim of a crime. Oakland criminal defense lawyer Ernesto Castillo has years of experience dealing with murder cases - both negotiation and trial - and he consults with experts on investigation, ballistics, and crime scenes to prove a murder was voluntary manslaughter. If you are charged with murder, you need an attorney with unique experience in this field to succeed.
We have that experience. Contact the Castillo Law Office today for a free consultation.