Manslaughter has two different definitions. The two kinds of manslaughter charges an individual may face are voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter. Voluntary manslaughter is the more serious of the two charges. A voluntary manslaughter happens when there is malicious forethought. An individual is convicted of manslaughter when there are mitigating circumstances. This is the main difference between a charge of murder, which also has an element of intent, and manslaughter.
In order to understand the circumstances in which manslaughter cases are commonly applied, it is crucial to understand a legal concept known as the “reasonable person.” A reasonable person is a legal fiction of a person the same age and gender as the defendant with a similar background. This reasonable person forms an objective background which provides the basis against which the actions of any individual may be judged to determine the criminality of the person’s actions.
The reasonable person is assumed to always act in moderation, always pay attention to their surroundings, always exemplifies a high level of self-control, and never consumes any substance, such as alcohol or drugs, which would impair their ability to function.
A homicide charge will often have voluntary manslaughter as a lesser included charge so as to attempt to obtain a conviction against a defendant even if the prosecution does not prove its case strongly enough to substantiate a more serious charge but the jury still finds a degree of culpability.
Voluntary manslaughter is rarely the top charge in an indictment. Voluntary manslaughter is usually only the verdict of a jury if the defense attorneys have successfully presented their case. Voluntary manslaughter is often the decision of a jury if the defense has presented sufficient evidence to prove that there were mitigating circumstances which contributed to the defendant’s actions.
A voluntary manslaughter sentence is usually the result if the defense can prove one of three circumstances. The first is that the killer was responding to a provocation that would have elicited a similar response from a reasonable person. A recent incident of provocation involved a person insulting another person on Twitter. The reasonable person standard is also crucial to the two other circumstances of voluntary manslaughter.
The next instance of manslaughter that the reasonable man test enters into is a finding of voluntary manslaughter by reason of imperfect self-defense. While a perfect self-defense case result in an acquittal, imperfect self-defense is an instance of manslaughter where the killer acted to defend themselves or another person but the deadly force employed would not be considered by a reasonable person to be an appropriate response to the threat faced. Michigan also allows for imperfect self-defense when the killer would have been found to be acting in self-defense, except that the killer initiated the confrontation.
Diminished capacity is the third circumstance in which voluntary manslaughter may be determined to have occurred. Diminished capacity is a legal concept present in some jurisdictions of the United States which finds that a person suffering from a mental disease or defect is still liable for the consequences of their actions, but is not to be held to the same standards as the fictional reasonable person. Diminished capacity is related to but distinct from an insanity plea.
A defense of diminished capacity places the burden of proof on the prosecution to disprove it and attempts to negate a part of the case, and is thus known as a negating defense. An insanity defense is an affirmative defense because it presents additional evidence and places the burden on the defense to prove their charge. A successful diminished capacity defense in a murder case would result in a guilty finding on the lower charge of manslaughter.