Voluntary Manslaughter is an intentional homicide without malice aforethought in the heat of passion as a result of adequate provocation. Under Massachusetts criminal law, the crime of Voluntary Manslaughter Murder may be found at Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 265, Section 13.
Legal Elements of Voluntary Manslaughter
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In order to be found guilty of Voluntary Manslaughter under Massachusetts criminal law, there must be strong evidence of the following legal elements:
- that the defendant intentionally inflicted injury or injuries on the victim likely to cause death; and
- that the inflicted injuries caused the death of the victim.
Voluntary Manslaughter as a Theory of Defense
Voluntary Manslaughter may be used as a defense to a murder charge. Under certain mitigating circumstances, a killing that would otherwise be murder in the first or second degree may be reduced to the lesser offense of Voluntary Manslaughter. There are three mitigating circumstances recognized by Massachusetts criminal law for this purpose.
Heat of Passion Caused by Reasonable Provocation
Heat of passion includes the states of mind of passion, anger, fear, fright, and nervous excitement. Reasonable provocation is provocation by the person killed that would be likely to produce such a state of passion, anger, fear, fright, or nervous excitement in a reasonable person as would overwhelm his capacity for reflection or restraint and did actually produce such a state of mind in the defendant.
The provocation must be such that a reasonable person would have become incapable of reflection or restraint and would not have cooled off by the time of the killing, and that the defendant himself was so provoked and did not cool off at the time of the killing. In addition, there must be a causal connection between the provocation, the heat of passion, and the killing.
The killing must occur after the provocation and before there is sufficient time for the emotion to cool, and must be the result of the state of mind induced by the provocation rather than by a preexisting intent to kill or grievously injure, or an intent to kill formed after the capacity for reflection or restraint has returned.
Mere words, no matter how insulting or abusive, do not ordinarily by themselves constitute reasonable provocation. But there may be reasonable provocation where the person killed discloses information that would cause a reasonable person to lose his self-control and learning of the matter disclosed did actually cause the defendant to do so.
Reasonable provocation does not require physical contact. But physical contact, even a single blow, may amount to reasonable provocation. Whether the contact is sufficient will depend on whether a reasonable person under similar circumstances would have been provoked to act out of emotion rather than reasoned reflection and on whether the defendant was in fact so provoked.
The heat of passion must also be sudden; that is, the killing must have occurred before a reasonable person would have regained control of his emotions and the defendant must have acted in the heat of passion before he regained control of his emotions.
Heat of Passion Induced by Sudden Combat
Sudden combat involves a sudden assault by the person killed and the defendant upon each other. In sudden combat, physical contact, even a single blow, may amount to reasonable provocation.
Whether the contact is sufficient will depend on whether a reasonable person under similar circumstances would have been provoked to act out of emotion rather than reasoned reflection and on whether the defendant was in fact so provoked.
The heat of passion induced by sudden combat must also be sudden; that is, the killing must have occurred before a reasonable person would have regained control of his emotions and the defendant must have acted in the heat of passion without cooling off at the time of the killing.
Excessive Use of Force in Self-Defense or Defense of Another.
A person is not guilty of any crime if he acted in proper self-defense or defense of another. The term excessive force in self-defense means that, considering all the circumstances, the defendant used more force than was reasonably necessary to defend himself or another.
In considering the reasonableness of any force used by the defendant, any factors relevant to the reasonableness of the defendant’s conduct under the circumstances may be used.
This includes includes evidence of the relative physical capabilities of the combatants, the number of persons who were involved on each side, the characteristics of any weapons used, the availability of room to maneuver, the manner in which the deadly force was used, the scope of the threat presented.
Examples of Voluntary Manslaughter
- A man returns home after a week-long vacation to find his wife in bed with another man. He grabs the golf club from his bag and hits the man on the head killing him;
- A woman commits a battery against another woman by inflicting severe harm. The wounded woman responds by taking a knife out and killing her attacker;
- A cheating spouse continuously verbally taunts and ridicules the other spouse until the spouse snaps and kills him;
- A man comes home to find his wife beaten and bruised almost to death. She tells him it was the guys across the street who attacked her. He responds by grabbing his gun, going across the street and shooting the men.
Potential Punishment if Convicted of Voluntary Manslaughter in Massachusetts
A defendant convicted of Voluntary Manslaughter in Massachusetts shall be punished by state prison for not more than 20 years or in jail or house of correction for not more than 2 ½ years. This potential consequences may be found at Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 265, Section 13.
If you have been charged with voluntary manslaughter charges and need representation, contact the Massachusetts Manslaughter Defense Lawyers at the Law Office of John L. Calcagni III by email or call today at (508) 213-9113 to schedule a free consultation.