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Matthew A. Radefeld and Daniel A. Juengel

What is voluntary manslaughter?

On Behalf of | Jan 3, 2024 | Homicide |

Voluntary manslaughter is a legal term that encapsulates a specific category of homicide. Unlike murder, which involves an intent to kill or cause serious harm, voluntary manslaughter occurs when a person, in the heat of the moment or under extreme emotional distress, intentionally kills another person.

Under Missouri law, voluntary manslaughter refers to intentionally killing another person under specific circumstances that mitigate the severity of the offense compared to first-degree murder. Essentially, unlike premeditated murder, voluntary manslaughter involves a sudden and intense provocation that prompts the perpetrator to act impulsively.

Elements of voluntary manslaughter

For an act to be classified as voluntary manslaughter, it must involve the deliberate and purposeful killing of another individual. This requires a conscious decision to cause harm, differentiating it from accidental or negligent actions.

Central to voluntary manslaughter is the element of provocation. This legal term refers to actions or events that could lead a reasonable person to lose control and act impulsively. Common examples include discovering a spouse’s infidelity or facing immediate, serious threats.

Establishing a direct connection between the provocation and the act of killing is also crucial. The provocation must be the primary reason for the impulsive action, creating a cause-and-effect relationship that aligns with legal standards.

Degrees of manslaughter

Missouri prohibits two types of killing under the category of voluntary manslaughter. The first is what would be considered a second-degree murder (unplanned but intentional killing), except the accused committed the crime in the heat of passion. The second is intentionally assisting someone else to commit self-murder (as Missouri law calls it), otherwise known as suicide.

The state classified voluntary manslaughter as a Class B felony and the penalties for this offense can include up to 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

Navigating a voluntary manslaughter case involves exploring potential defenses. These may include actual innocence, self-defense, lack of intent, accidental killing and insanity. Crafting a strong defense strategy is essential to safeguarding the rights of the accused.