Voluntary Manslaughter: Definition, Examples & Punishment

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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Schubert

Jessica is a practicing attorney and has taught law and has a J.D. and LL.M.

Learn what constitutes voluntary manslaughter. Review the definition of voluntary manslaughter and look at several examples. Finally, examine the punishment for voluntary manslaughter.

What Is Voluntary Manslaughter?

Voluntary manslaughter, also known as a heat of passion murder or a crime of passion, is a killing that comes about when one is emotionally charged and suddenly acts. There is no time for the person to have thought about their actions and they simply act, unintentionally and without stopping to plan the killing.

Frequently, the crime of voluntary manslaughter occurs when the offender has been provoked into acting. Thus, something triggers the killing, such as an event or situation. However, generally speaking, simple gestures or statements are not deemed sufficient as a triggering event; there must be a more significant situation to cause someone to commit voluntary manslaughter. Furthermore, the time between the provocation and the actual event must be short; a long delay will cause the killing to be treated as a murder and not as voluntary manslaughter.

Voluntary Manslaughter Examples

Let's look at some examples to get a better understanding of what constitutes voluntary manslaughter. Imagine that Amy and Bill, husband and wife, are in a very heated argument when Amy discovers Bill is having an affair. Amy and Bill start physically fighting and Amy pushes Bill at the top of the stairs in their home. Bill stumbles backwards, falls down the stairs, hits his head on the way down, and ends up dying. Amy is found guilty of voluntary manslaughter because she knocked Bill down in the heat of passion, while they were physically fighting. Amy meant to cause Bill harm and Bill's death was a consequence of the argument.

Let's examine another example. Imagine that two people, Jeremy and Dan, were arguing in a bar. Jeremy gets thrown out of the bar and hides in the dark parking lot, waiting for Dan to come out so he can jump him. Jeremy pulls a gun. He does not intend to use it to actually shoot Dan, but he has it just to scare Dan. Dan eventually emerges from the bar and Jeremy approaches him and starts brandishing the gun and yelling threats. The two start to fight and the gun goes off in the middle of the brawl. Jeremy is guilty of voluntary manslaughter. Although Jeremy did not mean to kill Dan, that does not matter; Jeremy killed Dan in the heat of passion and, therefore, is guilty of voluntary manslaughter.

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