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Penal Code 192(a) PC | Voluntary Manslaughter

Penal Code 192(a) PC | Voluntary Manslaughter in California

Voluntary manslaughter is a serious violent felony offense in California. It involves unlawfully killing someone during a sudden quarrel or in the heat of passion. While it is not considered murder under the law, voluntary manslaughter does carry stiff penalties if convicted.

This article provides an overview of the crime of voluntary manslaughter under Penal Code 192(a) PC. We’ll cover the legal definition, penalties, common defenses, and related offenses.

What is Voluntary Manslaughter Under California Law?

California Penal Code 192(a) PC defines voluntary manslaughter as the unlawful killing of a human being, without malice, upon a sudden quarrel or heat of passion. [1]

In order for a prosecutor to obtain a conviction for voluntary manslaughter, they must prove all of the following elements beyond a reasonable doubt:

  • The defendant committed an act that caused the death of another person
  • The defendant intended to kill when they acted
  • The killing occurred during a sudden quarrel or in the heat of passion
  • The defendant acted rashly or under the influence of intense emotion that obscured their reasoning or judgment
  • The provocation would have caused a reasonable person to act rashly in the same manner under the circumstances

Voluntary manslaughter is considered a lesser included offense of murder in California. This means it contains some, but not all, of the same elements as murder. The key distinction is that voluntary manslaughter lacks the element of malice aforethought, or the intent to kill, which is required for a murder conviction.

Prosecutors rarely file charges for voluntary manslaughter up front. More commonly, it arises during plea bargain negotiations in a murder case. The defense might argue that their client should plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter as a lesser offense, rather than face trial on a murder charge.

What’s the Difference Between Murder and Voluntary Manslaughter?

The main difference between murder and voluntary manslaughter under California law is whether the defendant acted with malice aforethought.

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For murder, the prosecution must prove the killing was intentional and deliberate, with malice aforethought. This means the defendant acted with the intent to kill, conscious disregard for life, or intent to commit a dangerous felony.

In contrast, voluntary manslaughter occurs when the defendant intentionally kills someone without malice aforethought. The killing happens in the heat of passion, under intense emotion, without time for reflection. While the defendant intended to kill, they did not act with premeditation or a malicious state of mind.

Some examples of voluntary manslaughter include:

  • A husband catches his wife cheating and kills her lover in a jealous rage
  • An argument escalates into a fistfight that turns deadly
  • A defendant kills an abuser while fighting back against abuse

In each case, the killing was intentional but occurred in the heat of passion without premeditation or malice. So voluntary manslaughter, rather than murder, would likely apply.

Penalties for Voluntary Manslaughter in California

Voluntary manslaughter is a felony offense in California punishable by:

  • 3, 6, or 11 years in state prison
  • Up to a $10,000 fine
  • A “strike” on your record under California’s Three Strikes law

By comparison, the penalty for first or second degree murder is 15 years to life in prison. So voluntary manslaughter carries significantly less severe penalties than murder in California.

A conviction will also result in the loss of gun ownership rights in California. And any sentence imposed may include additional fines, restitution to the victim’s family, and community service requirements.

Common Defenses to Voluntary Manslaughter Charges

There are several legal defenses that a skilled California criminal defense lawyer may use to contest voluntary manslaughter charges under Penal Code 192(a) PC.


If the killing occurred while lawfully defending yourself or someone else, then it was justified and voluntary manslaughter does not apply. The use of reasonable force in self-defense is allowed under California law.

Imperfect Self-Defense

This defense argues the defendant had an actual but unreasonable belief that killing was necessary for self-defense. Since the belief was genuine, malice aforethought is negated. So while the defendant can be convicted of voluntary manslaughter, murder does not apply.

Heat of Passion

This argues the killing occurred under legally adequate provocation, like catching a spouse cheating. The provocation would cause a reasonable person to act rashly without judgment, negating malice aforethought.


If strong evidence shows the death was a true accident not intended by the defendant, then voluntary manslaughter does not apply. However, the defense must prove the defendant was acting lawfully and with reasonable care when the accident occurred.

Mental Condition

A mental health condition that prevented the defendant from understanding the nature of their actions or distinguishing right from wrong could provide a defense. But insanity defenses are extremely difficult to prove in California.

Related Offenses

There are several other homicide offenses in California that are related to voluntary manslaughter. These include:

  • Murder – Penal Code 187 PC
  • Involuntary Manslaughter – Penal Code 192(b) PC
  • Vehicular Manslaughter – Penal Code 192(c) PC
  • DUI Murder – “Watson Murder” under Penal Codes 187 and 189

Voluntary manslaughter lacks the malice element required for murder. Involuntary manslaughter involves accidental killings without malice. Vehicular and DUI manslaughter apply when driving under the influence results in death.

Lesser included offenses that may accompany a voluntary manslaughter charge include assault, battery, and domestic violence crimes.

Hiring an Experienced California Criminal Defense Lawyer

Voluntary manslaughter allegations must be taken very seriously. If convicted, you face years in prison, massive fines, and a permanent criminal record.

An experienced criminal defense lawyer can carefully examine the evidence in your case and build the strongest defense to contest the charges. Having skilled legal representation can make all the difference in the outcome.

Do not hesitate to contact a qualified defense attorney if you are facing investigation or prosecution for voluntary manslaughter in California. With an aggressive defense, many of these charges can be reduced or even dismissed entirely.


[1] https://codes.findlaw.com/ca/penal-code/pen-sect-192/

[2] https://www.shouselaw.com/ca/defense/penal-code/192/

[3] https://www.losangelescriminallawyer.pro/california-penal-code-section-192-a-pc-voluntary-manslaughter.html

[4] https://www.keglawyers.com/voluntary-manslaughter-penal-code-192-a

[5] https://www.cronisraelsandstark.com/voluntary-manslaughter-penal-code-192a

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