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Defending voluntary manslaughter charges in Virginia

Homicide is a catchall term describing deaths caused by killings. A person's state of mind at the time of a homicide can have as much to do with the charges he or she faces as the case circumstances. Manslaughter is a killing that may or may not be intentional, although the crime lacks the presence of malice.

According to Virginia laws, manslaughter crimes are voluntary or involuntary. Involuntary manslaughter occurs accidentally, without intent. Voluntary manslaughter is a purposeful killing, spurred on by provocation or passion without premeditation.

A widely-used example for voluntary manslaughter is a husband who discovers his wife cheating, becomes enraged and kills his spouse and her lover. Had the man plotted the encounter and killing, the husband would have faced murder charges. The spur-of-the-moment rage reduced the crime to voluntary manslaughter.

A defendant's mindset is crucial to a voluntary manslaughter case. Obviously, if a criminal defense attorney can show the defendant did not kill the victim, the prosecution's case implodes. Sometimes, an acquittal takes the form of inserting reasonable doubt in the minds of jurors.

Affirmative defenses agree partially with prosecutors. The defendant admits he or she killed someone but not for the reasons alleged. Perfect self-defense may be claimed.

A defendant with a perfect self-defense had a reasonable belief deadly force was necessary and engaged in no other misconduct. Both claims must be true for self-defense. Otherwise, the claim satisfies provisions of the charge that point to guilt.

A reduction of the charge to involuntary manslaughter is possible by showing the defendant had no intent to kill. The defense might argue the homicide was an accident caused by careless or reckless actions without purpose. In Virginia, voluntary and involuntary are both punishable as Class 5 felonies.

Insanity is a defense, although the claim may be very difficult to prove. Attorneys devise customized defense strategies based on individual defendant circumstances.

Source: FindLaw, "Voluntary Manslaughter Defenses" Oct. 08, 2014

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