Manslaughter is generally defined as the unlawful killing of another person but without malice or, alternatively, the inadvertent killing of that person without criminal negligence or recklessness.
There’s a huge difference between the two types of manslaughter charges. Whereas involuntary manslaughter could be charged as a misdemeanor with no jail time, voluntary manslaughter is always charged as a felony with punishments sometimes exceeding a decade in prison.
Another type of manslaughter charge which is essentially charged as voluntary manslaughter (i.e., always as a felony and always involving significant prison time) is known as gross vehicular manslaughter, which typically involves you killing someone while driving intoxicated.
Not surprisingly, voluntary manslaughter is considered to be a serious homicide offense and is therefore typically prosecuted by the District Attorney Office’s Major Crimes Division.
Homicide Crimes – Voluntary Manslaughter as a Lesser Included Offense
If you’re facing a second-degree murder charge and the prosecutor isn’t convinced he or she will prevail against you at trial, or if he or she otherwise wants to avoid trying the case, you may very well get offered the option of accepting a guilty or no-contest plea to a lesser included offense for voluntary manslaughter. (Rarely will voluntary manslaughter be offered as a lesser conviction for first-degree murder.)
Alternatively, at the outset of trial, your attorney might want to ensure the jury has the option of convicting you of such if the evidence against you for murder (first or second-degree) is strong.
But for the judge to accept such a lesser plea, or to instruct the jury on such an option, there must be some evidence that:
the victim provoked you to attack him/her;
you were so enraged or placed in such a highly emotional state that you temporarily lost your ability to act reasonably or with sound judgment; and
any reasonable person would have been so affected by this provocation (though not necessarily to your extent).
See Judicial Council of California Criminal Jury Instructions (“CALCRIM”) number 570 (“Voluntary Manslaughter: Heat of Passion—Lesser Included Offense”) at: https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/500/570/.
See also CALCRIM number 571 (“Voluntary Manslaughter: Imperfect Self-Defense or Imperfect Defense of Another - Lesser Included Offense”) at: https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/500/571/.
Please note, however, that the converse is not true – i.e., involuntary manslaughter is not a lesser included offense of voluntary manslaughter.
See People v. Orr (1994) 22 Cal.App.4th 780, 784 at: https://law.justia.com/cases/california/court-of-appeal/4th/22/780.html.
California Statutes Regarding Homicide Crimes – Voluntary Manslaughter
California Penal Code section 192(a) (Voluntary Manslaughter)
This statute entails prosecution for voluntary manslaughter if you get into a fight and kill someone during the heat of passion, or as a result of any altercation that results in the victim’s death in the absence of deliberation or premeditation.
More specifically, to obtain your conviction for this crime, the prosecutor must prove the following:
you acted in such a way that resulted in the victim being killed;
when you did so, you unlawfully intended to kill him or her; and
you lacked legal justification or excuse for doing so.
Alternatively, your Assistant DA must establish that:
you intended to commit the act that resulted in the victim being killed;
this act could foreseeably have resulted in a person’s death;
you knew that it was hazardous when you committed the act; and
when you did so, you consciously ignored this danger.
See CALCRIM number 572 (“Voluntary Manslaughter: Murder Not Charged”) at: https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/500/572/.
California Penal Code section 191.5 (Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated)
Killing someone while driving drunk or even buzzed will get you prosecuted under this statute so long as this is your first DUI charge. A second DUI conviction in this instance will result in a second-degree murder conviction.
Convictions and Sentencing Terms for Homicide Crimes – Voluntary Manslaughter
California Penal Code section 193(a) (Voluntary Manslaughter)
Excluding any enhancements, a conviction for voluntary manslaughter under Pen. Code § 192(a) will get you a low, mid, or high term of three, six, or eleven years, respectively.
California Penal Code section 191.5 (Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated)
Low, mid, and high terms for prison sentences under this statute are 4, 6, or 10 years, respectively. Pen. Code § 191.5(c)(1).
However, a second conviction under this criminal code will get you fifteen-to-life. Pen. Code § 191.5(d).
Defenses to Homicide Crimes – Voluntary Manslaughter
Defenses to Voluntary Manslaughter
Voluntary manslaughter charges can be defeated with the following proven arguments:
you were forced to kill the victim because he/she was about to imminently hurt or even kill you or another person (if your belief was reasonable, it’s a “perfect defense”; otherwise, it’s “imperfect”);
you killed him or her while engaging in a legal act in a lawful manner;
the killing was not the result of a wanton or reckless act on your part;
it was not the natural consequence of your act;
it was not the probable result of your act;
nor was it the result of your acting in a criminally negligent manner; and/or
nothing you did proximately resulted in or otherwise substantially contributed to the killing.
See CALCRIM numbers 571 & 572.
Defenses to Gross Vehicular Manslaughter
You can defeat this felony charge with the following successful assertions at trial (or even possibly at the preliminary hearing):
at no relevant time prior to the victim’s death were you using or under the influence of alcohol, narcotics, or any other intoxicating substance;
if you had been drinking, it was not to the point where your BAC was at least .08 percent (but if you were not yet 21 years of age, you had less than .05 percent BAC);
the victim died because you acted lawfully and in a manner that would not likely cause his/her death (or, at minimum, in this particular instance, the act was not a misdemeanor or an infraction);
at all relevant times, you did not act out of gross negligence; or
you did act out of gross negligence but not in a way that would foreseeably contribute to the victim’s death in a significant way.
See CALCRIM number 590 (“Gross Vehicular Manslaughter While Intoxicated”) at: https://www.justia.com/criminal/docs/calcrim/500/590/.
Examples of Homicide Crimes – Voluntary Manslaughter Cases
Sunnyvale resident gets a dozen years for choking to death his friend and colleague in Santa Clara
On or about July 18, 2018, two co-workers at a supermarket in Santa Clara (Silicon Valley) went on a drinking binge that ended tragically. After clocking out, they went to dinner together at a fast-food restaurant, then consumed prodigious quantities of alcohol before returning to their place of work to buy a bottle of hard alcohol.
They thereafter strolled to a nearby park where they drank more At some point, local George McCartney (twenty-seven) and Ray Hyde (age unknown) got into a physical altercation that ended with the former choking the latter until Hyde passed out, unconscious. Or at least that’s what McCartney thought when he staggered home thereafter. In fact, however, the victim was found dead in the park.
Immediately after the Fourth of July weekend 2019, McCartney accepted a nolo contendre plea to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to a dozen years in prison.
In our opinion, this was a terrible deal because there were apparently no eyewitnesses or any other evidence indicating that McCartney did not act out of self-defense. At worst, he should have taken nothing worse than an involuntary manslaughter plea with a four-year sentence.
Four person murder-robbery crew are sentenced for string of killings in South Los Angeles
In early 2014, an Angeleno named Mike Mosby (twenty-three) lured three young females to not only turn tricks for him, but to engage in a series of deadly robberies in South LA.
The crime spree began at the beginning of April 2014, when Mosby and one of the women, Mariah Jiles (twenty-two), tricked Bill Quezada (twenty-nine) to go with Jiles, ostensibly to have sex with her in her car. However, once inside the vehicle, Mosby fired a single bullet from a handgun, killing the man in front of Jiles’ toddler who was in the backseat. A second woman – Tenise Taylor (twenty-one) – was also present and participated in the robbery.
Twenty days later, Mosby did the same thing, this time luring Pedro Rodriguez (thirty-six) to have sex with another of Mosby’s sex workers, Marina Judkins (sixteen). Once again, Mosby shot to death the unsuspecting victim, then fleeced him of his valuables.
Several other similar robberies occurred with Mosby, Jiles, and Judkins but, fortunately, there were no further casualties – largely the result of Mosby’s poor aim. The three suspects were arrested shortly thereafter and charged with a variety of homicide and robbery offenses.
In the fall of 2016, Judkins (now eighteen) accepted a guilty plea to voluntary manslaughter and several counts of second-degree robbery.
Mosby took his chances at trial and lost – in early 2017, he was found guilty of the following felonies: two first-degree murders, attempted murder, drive-by shooting, and miscellaneous offenses.
In addition, the jurors found true that the killings were special-circumstances murders because of the multiple victims and the fact that the killings occurred during robberies and attempted robberies. They also found true special allegations that Mosby personally discharged a firearm during the commission of those felonies.
That same month, Taylor took the same exact deal as Judkins: voluntary manslaughter and 2nd-degree robbery. Finally, Jiles was convicted of first-degree murder with special circumstances in a separate trial.
The four defendants’ sentences were commensurate with their convictions. Mosby received life with no parole (“LWNP”), and Jiles received a life-with-potential-parole sentence. The two voluntary manslaughter/second-degree-robbery convicts, Taylor and Judkins, received thirteen and eleven years, respectively.
Married couple is sentenced for the torture-murder and robbery of a Good Samaritan in DTLA hotel
In late November 2010, a married couple – Melissa (twenty-five) and Ed Garcia (thirty-six) – randomly met Herb White (forty-nine), a former drug addict and now an AA sponsor. White saw that the Garcias were clearly in bad shape, offered to help them get sober, then gave them his phone number.
Two days later, the Garcias called him around midnight and said they needed his help to get off the street and get clean. He drove in his car to pick them up in Hollywood, then paid for and checked them into a Skid Row hotel. Ed Garcia then attacked White and, with help from his wife, bound, tortured him with a small knife, then killed and dismembered him as part of a Satanic-like ritual.
Ed rolled the dice at trial and, on June 22, 2015, was convicted by a jury of first-degree murder with special circumstances involving torture and murder during a robbery. The jurors also found true a special allegation that he personally used a bladed weapon during the commission of a felony. He was sentenced to LWNP on August 14, 2015. (It’s unclear why it took almost five years to bring him to trial.)
Melissa was facing a separate trial when she accepted a guilty plea to the following: voluntary manslaughter, first-degree residential burglary, second-degree robbery, and mayhem. She also admitted to the special allegation of personally using a knife during a crime. In mid September 2015, the judge handed her almost seventeen years in a penitentiary.
Examples of Homicide Crimes – Gross Vehicular Manslaughter Cases
Two Santa Ana men charged with the alleged street-racing death of veteran newspaper reporter
On July 30, 2020, two locals – Louis Villa (twenty-nine) and Richard Tolento (twenty-four) – allegedly engaged in a street race in Santa Ana (Orange County) that resulted in a third local man – Eugene Harbrecht (sixty-seven) – being killed.
The two suspects allegedly raced each other at an excessive speed just east of the River View Golf Course when Villa allegedly crashed into Harbrecht’s vehicle, instantly killing him. Authorities claim that Tolento was contemporaneously aware of the death but nevertheless fled the scene. Villa, who was seriously injured, was taken to a nearby hospital where he remained for an indeterminate time.
On or about August 5, 2020, the two suspects were each charged with numerous felonies (as well as a misdemeanor for street racing). Villa, who reportedly has a prior DUI conviction, now faces separate counts for second-degree murder and DUI resulting in severe injury.
As a result, he faces fifteen-to-life, including enhancements for, among other things, allegedly having a prior DUI within the preceding ten years. The prosecutor further alleges that Villa had previously been instructed at his prior DUI sentencing hearing that if he killed someone while driving drunk, he would be charged with second-degree murder. (There is no publicly available information about what his BAC was following this latest incident.)
Tolento was arraigned on charges of gross vehicular manslaughter and a hit-and-run involving severe injury. With a potential enhancement for escaping the site of a vehicular manslaughter., he is looking at a minimum of eleven years in prison.
Paramedic from Los Angeles gets four years in prison for killing tow truck driver while intoxicated
On or about December 10, 2012, Angeleno Ray Burley (twenty-eight), a paramedic, was driving intoxicated on the 405 Freeway when he lost control of his vehicle, veered onto the shoulder, and slammed into a tow truck. Its operator, Mr. Faapuna Manu (twenty-seven) was hooking up a disabled vehicle. He was instantly killed, after which Burley unsuccessfully tried to kill himself at the scene of the collision. CHP officers arrested Burley, whose BAC was tested at .11 percent.
On or about July 24, 2014, Burley accepted a guilty plea to a single felony for gross vehicular manslaughter while inebriated. Less than five months later, he received the low term of forty-eight months in a penal institution (apparently because he had no priors, and because he accepted responsibility and expressed remorse as part of his plea).
East Hollywood woman was expected to receive two years in prison for killing a man while texting
On or about January 22, 2019, E. Hollywood resident Rosa Valdezinda (thirty-eight) was driving at night in DTLA while texting. While distracted, she plowed into an elderly man, Yong Kim (sixty-five), as he was crossing on a green light. He was pronounced dead at the scene, and Valdezinda was arrested (but not for a DUI).
Almost a year later, she accepted a nolo contendre plea for gross vehicular manslaughter. Although she was supposed to be sentenced on February 19, 2019, there are no further media reports regarding that hearing. In any event, as part of her plea, she was expected to receive twenty-four months in prison.
Example of Homicide Crimes – a Voluntary Manslaughter Case Involving a Celebrity
At the beginning of February 2015, ex-gangsta rap mogul Suge Knight (then forty-nine) was charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder, and felony hit-and-run resulting in death for allegedly running over two men with his truck, one of whom died as a result, or January 29th.
Knight then allegedly fled the scene – a parking lot of a fast-food restaurant in Compton – in his vehicle, a huge Ford Raptor truck.
It remains unclear exactly what the argument was about, but it is undisputed that Knight got into an altercation with the victims – Terry Carter and Cle Sloan – while Knight remained sitting in his truck. As the restaurant’s surveillance video appears to show, Sloan, who at the time was working as a consultant on the film Straight Outta Compton, and Carter exchange harsh words with Knight.
Then Sloan appears to repeatedly punch Knight through his open window, at which point Knight reverses, running over Sloan’s foot (and breaking numerous bones) in the process, then accelerates forward, striking Carter. (It’s unclear exactly what Carter was doing at the movie set.)
Here’s where the parties’ accounts differ – prosecutors claimed Knight intentionally aimed his truck at Carter with the specific intent to kill him, and tried to do the same with Sloan.
Knight argued that he saw Carter reach for a gun in his waistband, and that he believed Sloan was similarly armed, and only accidentally struck the men while he was trying to drive away to escape the anticipated gunshots, as well as Sloan’s punches.
After his arrest, Knight quickly posted bail in the amount of $2,200,000. However, he was immediately remanded into custody days later at his arraignment because the judge believed he:
posed a risk of absconding;
now faced a possible life sentence (particularly because this would be his third strike if convicted);
had a history of intimidating witnesses against him; and
had a long criminal record of violent-crime convictions.
Finally, on or about September 21, 2018 – days before his trial was scheduled to commence – and after going through sixteen defense lawyers and sitting in the county jail for more than five-and-a-half years, Knight accepted a nolo contendre plea to voluntary manslaughter. He did so despite knowing he would be sentenced to twenty-eight years in prison (including a six-year enhancement for a third strike).
In our opinion, this was a terrible plea. Knight had a decent defense in light of the fact that the video is far from clear as to whether he intentionally ran over Carter. And it’s not as if Knight had much to lose – if he had gone to trial and lost, he likely would have at most received twenty-five to life, which, ironically, would have made him eligible for parole before his current 28-year sentence.
Backing up, there’s little chance the jury would have convicted him of first-degree murder since there was no evidence that the killing was premeditated or, arguably, that it was even deliberate. In other words, even a second-degree murder conviction would have been unlikely in the hands of a skilled trial attorney.
Granted, this would assume he wasn’t sentenced consecutively for Sloan’s injuries. Nevertheless, a top criminal defense attorney should have been able to create considerable reasonable doubt in the eyes of the jurors. As it stands, he’ll have to serve at least 80% of his sentence before coming up for parole, which judging from Knight’s multitude of health problems could very well mean he dies in prison.
The Los Angeles Criminal Defense Attorney Law Firm (LADALF)
Our founder Ninaz Saffari has defended numerous clients over the course of her more than fifteen-and-a-half years (as of November 2020) practicing criminal law whose cases have involved manslaughter charges, including voluntary and gross vehicular manslaughter.
For example, in People v. R.M., one of her clients had been charged with second-degree murder because he had killed a bicyclist while allegedly driving intoxicated. The murder charge stemmed from the fact that he had been convicted of a DUI offense within the preceding ten years. As a result, he was facing life with potential parole.
As soon as Ninaz was retained, she began working with a top accident reconstructionist, whose report helped Ninaz convince the prosecutor that the tragic incident had nothing to do with the client’s drinking. Further, Ninaz was able to challenge the LAPD’s BAC test results and, in fact, was able to show that he was under the legal limit.
End result: she was able to negotiate a drastically reduced plea to involuntary manslaughter with a three-year sentence. This meant that with time already served while in custody, and with good-time credits, he would be out in under a year and a half.
In another case, People v. K.E., her client had been charged with gross vehicular manslaughter and was facing ten years if convicted. In addition, this client was not only a well-paid U.S. government official with a top security clearance, but a foreign national working here on a VISA. Since this conviction would constitute a crime of moral turpitude, her career would have been over and, upon completion of her prison sentence, would have been immediately deported.
Once again, however, Ninaz worked with her reconstruction expert and together were able to prove to the prosecutor that the victim had actually caused the accident.
End result: Ninaz was able to negotiate a drastically reduced plea to misdemeanor reckless driving resulting in injury. As a result, the client did zero time behind bars and, once she completed her 300 hours of volunteer work, had her case expunged. There were no negative ramifications to her career or her residency status.