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What Is Manslaughter?

by Lindsay Chambers

Taking someone else’s life is a grave offense with severe legal consequences. In California, a homicide can be either a murder or manslaughter charge. These two crimes have different definitions and penalties.

Murder vs. Manslaughter

California Penal Code 192 defines manslaughter as “the unlawful killing of a human being without malice.” A violation of this code is a felony that carries a sentencing range from probation with up to one year in county jail to up to 11 years in state prison.

The description of manslaughter includes three categories: voluntary, involuntary and vehicular.

  • Voluntary manslaughter involves one person killing someone else in the heat of the moment, such as after an argument. This type of manslaughter also applies to situations where one person kills another based on an honest but unreasonable belief in the need to defend themselves. 
  • Involuntary manslaughter is when someone’s illegal, reckless or negligent actions cause the death of another person. Here, the disregard for safety or risk of death makes these actions criminal, instead of the intent to cause harm.
  • Vehicular manslaughter is the charge you will face if your reckless driving is accidentally responsible for another person’s death. For example, if you get behind the wheel while you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs and cause a head-on collision that kills the other driver, a judge may rule you are guilty of vehicular manslaughter.

Murder carries a prison sentence of 15 years to life in California state prison, or 25 years to life in the case of first-degree murder. If you are facing murder charges, an experienced attorney will take your side, arguing on your behalf to get them reduced to manslaughter.

Legal Defenses to Manslaughter

A knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer can craft a legal strategy to help clients contest charges under California Penal Code 192.


In California, a defendant can legally kill someone else if they believe they are preventing severe injury or harm to themselves or another person. For example, if someone breaks into your home, robs you and threatens to hurt you and your family, you are within your rights to take reasonable steps, including the use of deadly force, to protect your property and loved ones.


A judge may rule you are not guilty of voluntary manslaughter if you accidentally killed someone. If circumstances allow, your criminal defense attorney can put together a case that you had no criminal intention of harming the other person and were otherwise acting lawfully and responsibly during the incident.


If your attorney chooses to use the insanity defense in your case, they will try to prove that you either did not appreciate the magnitude of your actions or failed to understand that what you were doing was morally and ethically wrong.

Orange County Manslaughter Attorney

Ronald G. Brower, an award-winning criminal defense attorney, has been a leading member of Southern California’s legal landscape for more than four decades. Our office treats every client with equal respect and attention, whether you have a high-profile, headline-making case or one that attracts little to no media coverage. Contact us today to schedule your complimentary consultation.

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