If a person gets into an altercation with someone, and ends up fatally shooting the other person, will he be charged with murder? Could the killing be justified as an act of self-defense? Or will the shooter be charged with voluntary manslaughter?
When is voluntary manslaughter applicable?
Among the three cases or charges mentioned, you may be least familiar with voluntary manslaughter. Murder is the crime of unlawfully and intentionally killing a person, while self-defense is the justified act of protecting yourself from a person that would have obviously caused you physical injury or killed you if you did not repel the attack. Voluntary manslaughter, on the other hand, is defined as intentional killing by someone who had no prior intent to kill. The killing may have been brought about by “heat of passion”, or may be a case of “imperfect self-defense.”
In imperfect self-defense, the defendant should have the belief that (1) there was imminent danger to his safety; and (2) deadly force was needed to protect himself. However, one or both of these beliefs are unreasonable. In other words, the victim could have been stopped in another, nonfatal way; or the victim had no intention of harming or killing the defendant. Therefore, killing him/her was unjustified.
An experienced criminal attorney can examine a case to determine which charge it could fall under. The lawyer may help the client get a lesser charge, (from murder to involuntary manslaughter, for example) through evidence building and other defense strategies.