Voluntary Manslaughter

Have you Been Charged with Voluntary Manslaughter in Georgia?

Manslaughter, murder, homicide, first degree, second degree are all terms associated with the death of another. However, many people do not know the difference between each of the different crimes. That is why it is important to hire a Lawyer who is familiar with the complexities between each of the various crimes and knows how to defend you best. Call the offices of Lawson and Berry and their team of Georgia Manslaughter Attorneys today and let their decades of experience work for you! 

Homicide crimes (i.e. the killing of another) can be evaluated if you look at them as a recipe and separate out the ingredients. All criminal homicides have the base ingredient of “unlawful killing of a human being”. If you add malice to the equation, then the crime is considered murder. Factors such as premeditation and deliberation will further aggravate the charges. For example, a killing without malice is manslaughter. Manslaughter is broken down into two different categories: voluntary and involuntary.

Georgia Law O.C.G.A. §16-5-2 on Voluntary Manslaughter

A person commits the offense of voluntary manslaughter when he or she causes the death of another human being under circumstances which would otherwise be murder and if he acts solely as a result of a sudden, violent, and irresistible passion resulting from serious provocation sufficient to excite such passion in a reasonable person; however, if there should have been an interval between the provocation and the killing sufficient for the voice of reason and humanity to be heard, of which the jury in all cases shall be the judge, the killing shall be attributed to deliberate revenge and be punished as murder. 

Voluntary manslaughter is similar to murder as it also requires that there be an intent to kill. However, with voluntary manslaughter, the intent or malice requirement is erased by either a provocation producing sudden heat of passion or a diminished mental capacity. In other words, the distinguishing feature of voluntary manslaughter from murder is that it must be done in hot blood, without malice or deliberation.

What does Provocation Producing a Sudden, Violent, and Irresistible Passion Mean?

The killing cannot be premeditated or be deliberated beforehand and must be done in the heat of the moment. One of the keywords that differentiates voluntary manslaughter from murder is the sudden aspect. The provocation must produce an immediate action. If there is a cooling off period where the defendant has time to think about their actions and form a plan, then the crime is generally charged as murder. Whether there was a cooling off period is a question left to the jury. Typically, if there is a significant time different such as a day or a week, then generally the charge will be a murder charge. The Court has stated that a five to fifteen minute period for cooling off does not render the act of killing a murder instead of voluntary manslaughter as a matter of law. Davis v. State, 140 Ga. App. 890, (1977).

It also means that the actions leading up to the provocation must have been convincing that such passion would have also been raised in a reasonable person. The Court has found that just words are generally not enough to establish that a defendant was seriously provoked. However, words plus threatening movements could be sufficient provocation. If it would not have been enough for a reasonable person to become incited, then the charge could be elevated to murder.

An example of a cooling off period is demonstrated in the case of Harris v. State. 280 Ga. App. 373, (2006). In that case, the defendant shot a victim to death but claimed it was because of the provocation of a beating that the victim gave to him a month earlier. The defendant said the reason it was a month later was that the defendant had not seen the victim since the beating. The Court found that this was not voluntary manslaughter because it was a month later.

The Court has also determined that boxing or fighting before a homicide does not constitute the kind of provocation, which would warrant a charge of voluntary manslaughter. Their reasoning behind this is that boxing is an activity where both parties consent to subject themselves to being injured. In addition, simply engaging in a fight without any reason will not be enough grounds for voluntary manslaughter.

One of the common cases seen regarding voluntary manslaughter is when a spouse comes home to witness another spouse in the act of adultery, and then they shoot the other party. The Court finds that this is generally sufficient provocation. Furthermore, adulterous conduct can serve as sufficient provocation authorizing a charge of voluntary manslaughter even though the parties to the relationship are not married to each other. Murray v. State, 247 Ga. App. 139, (2000).

Georgia Case Law on Voluntary Manslaughter

Self-defense is not always a defense for voluntary manslaughter as seen in the case of Stanley v. State. 267 Ga. App. 656. In this case, the two men had a history of altercations. The victim, Johnson, had attacked the Defendant, Stanley, weeks earlier by pushing him and hitting him and another time he grabbed Stanley and choked him. On the day of the shooting, Stanley and Johnson had been drinking, and they were cursing and arguing with one another. Johnson grabbed Stanley and pushed him to the floor, and later he knocked Stanley out of a chair and began choking him. This happened twice that day. Later, Stanley took a gun from the bedroom and went to the kitchen where Johnson was and shot him while he was eating a hamburger.

During the trial, Stanley attempted to argue that the evidence was insufficient to support a conviction because the prosecution did not present any evidence that he killed the victim in the heat of passion. He argued that he killed Johnson in self-defense because he believed Johnson was going to hurt him. He also claimed that he was tired of Johnson beating and jumping on him. However, the jury found that there was ample evidence to support that Stanley shot Johnson as a result of sudden, violent, and irresistible passion resulting from serious provocation. Although Stanley claimed he was acting in self-defense saying Johnson was beating on him, Johnson was eating a hamburger at the time. Furthermore, the jury noted that Stanley was six feet, two and a half inches tall and weighed 374 pounds while Johnson was five feet, 10 inches tall and 165 pounds. So even though Stanley argued that it was in self-defense, he was much bigger than Johnson and Johnson was not beating him or engaging in threatening behavior when he was killed. Stanley acted passionately after becoming fed up with Johnson beating him up that day. Therefore, the jury concluded that Stanley shot Johnson as a result of sudden, violent, and irresistible passion resulting from serious provocation and he was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter.

Without a showing of irresistible passion because of provocation, then the accused cannot be found guilty of voluntary manslaughter but instead can be convicted of murder. Foster v. State, 294 Ga. 383, (2014). In this case, the defendant went to one of his friend's apartments because her aunt telephoned for assistance after some fights had broken out. The defendant was handed a gun from his friend, and after firing a warning shot in the air, he shot at the group of people he did not know. One person was killed, and another was hit in the arm and wrist. The accused argued during the trial that he should be given a charge of voluntary manslaughter instead of murder. However, the Court found no evidence that the accused had been provoked. The only evidence the Court found was that the defendant shot into an unsuspecting crowd of strangers. Therefore, the request for a voluntary manslaughter charge was denied and the defendant guilty of murder.

Penalty for a Voluntary Manslaughter Conviction in Georgia

A conviction for voluntary manslaughter in Georgia will be punished by a prison term for no less than one year and nor more than twenty years. It will be treated as a felony conviction.

In addition to criminal penalties, the accused may also face sentences in the form of a civil lawsuit from the victim for monetary damages.

Defenses to Voluntary Manslaughter

Lack of Intent: Voluntary manslaughter requires that there is intent to kill even it if it is mitigated by a provocation. If no intent can be established, your Attorney will seek for the charges to be dropped or for the charge to be lowered to involuntary manslaughter.

Accidental Killing: Similar to the defense of lack of intent, voluntary manslaughter requires that there is intent to kill. If the killing happened by accident, you could receive a reduction to an involuntary manslaughter charge.

Self-Defense: The key question in a self-defense claim is whether or not the accused was so influenced by the provocation that they reacted passionately rather than simply in an attempt at self-defense. Worthem v. State, 270 Ga. 469, (1999). The Court also looks at whether the accused used excessive or deadly force in their response to the victim.

A reasonable person would have also been provoked: If the prosecutor seeks to raise the charge to murder instead of manslaughter arguing that a reasonable person would not have acted the way you acted, any evidence that a rational person would have also become passionate would help you keep the voluntary manslaughter charge, which is a lesser punishment than murder.

What are not Defenses in Georgia

They were not the intended victim: Offenses of murder, voluntary manslaughter, and aggravated assault do not require that the intent to kill or injure must have been directed toward the person who was actually killed or injured.

They used profane language directed at me: Courts have found that without provocative conduct on behalf of the intended victim, then just curse words are not enough to constitute sufficient provocation for voluntary manslaughter. Hunter v. State, 256 Ga. 372, (1986).

They provoked me: In Georgia, it does not matter who started the altercation. If you killed someone after they provoked you, it would still be considered voluntary manslaughter.

Contact Us 

To schedule a free consultation one of our Georgia Voluntary Manslaughter Lawyers at Lawson and Berry, contact us today. Formulating a defense on your own can be overwhelming and seemingly impossible. Our Attorneys are highly knowledgeable and will assist you in formulating the best possible defense for your case. We will walk you through every step of the process, and we are dedicated to being accessible to you- days, nights, weekends, and holidays while working hard on your behalf. Your voluntary manslaughter attorney in Georgia will make sure you understand all of your options and advise you on the best approach to take for your case based on their many years of experience. Don't wait to contact one of our Lawyers. Your future is at stake so don't sit around waiting for your case to resolve itself.

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