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Fairfax Criminal Defense Attorney Explains: Manslaughter in Virginia

Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of another without malice.  Thus, malice is what distinguishes Murder from Manslaughter.

Voluntary Manslaughter is the intentional killing of another, without malice, as a result of heat of passion or mutual combat.  A person convicted of Voluntary Manslaughter faces up to 10 years in prison (a Class 5 felony).

  • Heat of Passion - Heat of passion excludes malice when that heat of passion arises from provocation that reasonably produces an emotional state of mind such as hot blood, rage, anger, resentment, terror or fear so as to demonstrate an absence of deliberate design to kill (or maim), or to cause one to act on impulse without conscious reflection. Heat of passion must be determined from circumstances as they appeared to the defendant but those circumstances must be such as would have aroused heat of passion in a reasonable person.  If a person acts upon reflection or deliberation, or after his passion has cooled or there has been a reasonable time or opportunity for cooling, then the act is not attributable to heat of passion.  (Virginia Model Jury Instructions).
  • Mutual Combat - When mutual combat occurs, malice is excluded.  This scenario involves two individuals engaging consensually in combat and one of the two dies as a result.  The killing must still be intentional, or at least the act that resulted in death was intentional.

Involuntary Manslaughter is the unintentional killing of another caused or brought about by an act which demonstrates reckless or callous disregard for human life.  Though the killing be unintentional, the conduct that resulted in death satisfies the threshold of criminal negligence thus imposing criminal liability.  A person convicted of Involuntary Manslaughter faces a Class 5 felony. 

There is also Involuntary Manslaughter, DUI related.  If, as a result of driving while intoxicated, a person is killed the defendant is guilty and faces a Class 5 felony.  However, if the conduct of the defendant was so gross, wanton and culpable as to show a reckless disregard for human life, the charge can be elevated to Aggravated Involuntary Manslaughter, a felony punishable by a term of imprisonment of not less than one nor more than 20 years, one year of which shall be a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment.  A person convicted of Manslaughter by DUI will lose their license indefinitely but may petition for reinstatement after a period of time.

Murder may actually be Manslaughter.  And Manslaughter may actually be accident or even self-defense, meaning no crime at all.  Homicide offenses carry severe penalties and stigma.  If you, or a loved one, is facing a homicide offense, contact a seasoned trial attorney.  George Freeman is an experienced former prosecutor and Fairfax Criminal Defense Attorney.  He will gladly meet with you to discuss your case.

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