The difference between voluntary and involuntary manslaughter is fairly
self-evident. Voluntary manslaughter means that a person intended to kill
or at least cause significant harm. Involuntary manslaughter involves
reckless or negligent behavior, but any death that resulted was an accident.
Even if a defendant is guilty of voluntary manslaughter, there are defenses
that a criminal defense attorney can make to the court, such as showing
that the death was accidental, to try to get the charge reduced to involuntary
manslaughter. Which defense strategy is used will depend upon the facts
of the case.
A defendant may be able to claim that he or she acted in self-defense.
To do so, a “perfect” self-defense claim needs to be made.
That means that the defendant had a reasonable need to act with lethal
force in order to prevent his or her own death. To make this claim, the
defendant must be innocent of any wrongdoing. For example, if the defendant
started a fight and then in the midst of the fight, the other person attempted
to kill the defendant, a perfect self-defense claim cannot be made.
Intoxication may be used as a defense, but only under certain circumstances.
The intoxication must have been involuntary. For example, if someone was
unknowingly drugged, an attorney may be able to use this defense. If a
defendant just drank too much and killed someone, it won’t work.
An insanity defense can be a tricky one. A defendant has to show that he
or she was legally insane at the time of the incident. States use different
standards for determining insanity. Maryland uses the Model Penal Code
test. The MPC test is broader than those used in some other states. The
defendant must have been diagnosed with a mental defect such as schizophrenia
or severe mental retardation that prevented him or her from obeying the
law or understanding that the conduct was criminal.
A voluntary manslaughter conviction, like all convictions involving violent
crimes, can have a serious and long-lasting impact on a person’s
future. If there are any kind of extenuating circumstances that led to
the homicide, it’s essential that those be explored and, if they
can be used as a defense, presented in court.