Criminal Defence Against Voluntary Manslaughter Charges

A lesser charge than murder, voluntary manslaughter is still an extremely serious crime. If you are found guilty of committing voluntary manslaughter you will face severe consequences which dramatically alter the course of your life. This makes contacting specialist manslaughter solicitors vital if you are accused.

What is voluntary manslaughter?

Voluntary manslaughter is committed when one person unlawfully kills another in circumstances which one of the partial defences reducing a murder charge apply.

A partial defence differs from a complete defence (such as self-defence) in that the crime committed bears all the ingredients of murder but provides some extenuating circumstance which reduces the culpability of the perpetrator.

There are three partial defences which could serve to reduce a murder charge to voluntary manslaughter: diminished responsibility, suicide pacts or loss of control.

Diminished responsibility

For a defence of diminished responsibility to be accepted it must be proven the perpetrator had reduced mental capacity when committing the crime which means they cannot be held responsible for the act of murder.

In order to prove diminished responsibility is a relevant defence there is a four-stage test, of which all elements must be proved:

  1. Was the defendant suffering from abnormal mental functioning?
  2. Has the issue arisen from a recognised medical condition?
  3. Did it substantially reduce their ability to understand the nature of their conduct, form a rational judgment or exercise proper self-control?
  4. Does it provide an explanation for their actions?

In cases where a defendant is claiming diminished responsibility, an expert psychiatrist will have the ability to express an opinion on each individual element and the issue in its entirety

A jury is not bound to accept this evidence, but if there are no other circumstances to consider unequivocal, uncontradicted medical evidence favourable to the defendant must be accepted. This makes it a vital component of any case where you wish to prove diminished responsibility.

Suicide pacts

A person pursuing a suicide pact with another in which the other party dies and they survive will be found guilty of manslaughter, not murder.

In order to establish this, the court must be satisfied both the suicide pact existed and the defendant had full intention of dying at the time of the killing. If these facts are proven, the court will accept reducing a murder charge to voluntary manslaughter.

Loss of Control

It is also possible to demonstrate an extreme loss of control resulted in the homicide being committed, therefore meaning the defendant should be tried for voluntary manslaughter instead of murder, which requires the intent to cause serious harm.

The loss of control defence has three components:

  1. A loss of control
  2. A qualifying trigger
  3. An objective test of whether the reaction would be expected of an average person in the defendant’s circumstances.

Each of these must be demonstrated sequentially if it is to be accepted.

When looking at the first component, prosecutors will seek to establish whether there is evidence the killing may have resulted from a momentary loss in control. Following this, they will seek to establish a qualifying trigger, this being something which could cause a reasonable person to lose control to such an extreme degree.

An acceptable qualifying trigger is required to be an extreme circumstance. Being fearful of violence, for example, is not seen as acceptable. Rather, a defendant arguing this must demonstrate they feared serious, potentially fatal violence.

Even if a qualifying trigger is demonstrated, this defence will not be accepted if the defendant is seen to have acted with a desire for revenge.

Should the first two components be proven, the prosecution will then take these into account before establishing whether they would expect a regular person with a normal degree of tolerance and self-restraint to react in a similar manner.

Voluntary manslaughter sentencing guidelines

Being found guilty of voluntary manslaughter is a serious crime, and the potential punishments take this into account. Sentencing, however, does vary according to circumstances.

The potential punishment for being found guilty of voluntary manslaughter by Loss of Control or as a result of a suicide pact is 14 years’ imprisonment. Voluntary manslaughter as a result of diminished responsibility carries a potential custodial sentence of 24 years.

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