Anyone who is a fan of television shows and movies that are centered around crimes has heard of a killing “in the heat of passion.” This phrase is a common way to refer to what the justice system calls “Voluntary Manslaughter.”

NRS 200.050 defines “Voluntary Manslaughter” as:

  1. In cases of voluntary manslaughter, there must be a serious and highly provoking injury inflicted upon the person killing, sufficient to excite an irresistible passion in a reasonable person, or an attempt by the person killed to commit a serious personal injury on the person killing.
  2. Voluntary manslaughter does not include vehicular manslaughter as described in NRS 484B.657.

That’s confusing language. What does it all mean?

The language used in the NRS 200.050 is nothing more than a complicated way to say that the victim did something that would cause any reasonable person to respond in such a way that they might kill the victim. The most common example of this is a husband who comes home to find his wife in bed with another man and, in a fit of rage, kills them both immediately.

The concept of “heat of passion” is very important to understand. In order for a homicide to be “voluntary manslaughter,” and not murder, there must be no premeditation or deliberation. If the accused had any time to think about what they were doing, and still chose to kill the victim, then the homicide was not “in the heat of passion.”

What does it mean by a “reasonable person”?

“Reasonable person” is legalese for “average person.” The “reasonable person” is any person who properly perceives the world around them. In other words, someone who is not crazy or psychopathic.

Okay, so what are the penalties for Voluntary Manslaughter?

Voluntary Manslaughter is a category B felony in Nevada, which means that it carries with it:

  • A prison sentence of between 1 and 10 years in a Nevada State Prison; and
  • Possible fines up to $10,000.00.

Why are the penalties so much lesser than for other types of murder?

Voluntary manslaughter is seen as a lesser crime because the fact that it takes place “in the heat of the moment” means that the accused was not in their right mind at the time of the homicide and did not consciously realize what they were doing. As a result, the criminal justice system has determined that it would not be fair, or just, to punish them in the same manner as someone who both knew and intended to kill their victim.

Are there any defenses to Voluntary Manslaughter?

There are a few defenses to a charge of Voluntary Manslaughter:

  • Self-Defense – As with any homicide charge, self-defense is a complete defense, meaning that if you can show that you were facing imminent bodily harm, or the threat thereof, then the charges against you will be dropped. However, this only applies if your reactions were reasonable, under the circumstances. Self-defense is a more complex defense in relation to Voluntary Manslaughter than it is with other forms of homicide because it requires a highly provoking personal injury. Generally speaking, if the highly provoking personal injury is physical, then you may be able to claim self-defense, whereas if the injury is emotional you will not be able to claim self-defense.
  • Procedural Errors – As with any crime, if your attorney can show that the investigating officers committed illegal procedural errors, such as an illegal search, or the contamination of evidence, then the tainted evidence will be suppressed, or thrown out. If there is not enough evidence to convict you after evidence has been suppressed, then the charges against you may be dropped or dismissed.

What is the difference between Voluntary and Involuntary Manslaughter?

The difference should be fairly easy to see, just by looking at the title of the two crimes. Voluntary Manslaughter exists where the accused intended to kill the victim, even if the accused was not in a proper state of mind at the time. In other words, the accused voluntarily killed the victim, given the circumstances.

Involuntary Manslaughter, on the other hand is a killing where the accused had no intent to kill the victim. Instead, the victim died as the result of recklessness or negligence.

What else should I know?

You should know that the Nevada crime of Voluntary Manslaughter is identical to the federal crime of voluntary manslaughter. However, the penalty for federal voluntary manslaughter carries with it a maximum penalty of up to 15 years in prison where the Nevada State crime carries a maximum penalty of 10 years. In all other aspects, the Federal crime is identical to the State crime, even though the wording may not sound the same.

What should I do if I’ve been charged with Voluntary Manslaughter?

As with any crime, it is very important that you speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney as soon as possible so that you can discuss the specific circumstances as well as any defenses that may apply to your case.

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