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Maryland Voluntary Manslaughter Law

Maryland has one manslaughter statute to cover what are traditionally called “voluntary manslaughter” and “involuntary manslaughter.” Voluntary manslaughter is an intentional killing that is mitigated or decreased from first or second degree murder to manslaughter based on there being an adequate provocation that would provoke a reasonable person and not enough time to cool down. This is the “heat of passion” murder.

Although Maryland has a manslaughter statute, manslaughter itself isn’t defined in the statute. Manslaughter is defined in the common law, or created by prior cases in Maryland. Voluntary manslaughter at common law in Maryland is the killing of an individual in the heat-of-passion in response to a legally adequate provocation.

Examples of Voluntary Manslaughter

The classic example of a reason for a voluntary manslaughter conviction rather than one for murder is the case of the cheating spouse. This is when a person walks in on his or her spouse engaged in a sexual act with another person and, in a fit of rage, kills one or both of them right then. However, in Maryland this by law is specifically not permitted as a defense that would mitigate murder to manslaughter.

In Maryland, an imperfect self-defense is one way a potential murder charge could be lowered to manslaughter. That’s when a person used deadly force with an honest, but unreasonable belief that it was necessary to defend himself or herself, thus missing the malice required for murder. Therefore, even though it is not a “perfect” self-defense that leads to a not guilty verdict, a voluntary manslaughter conviction will likely get a defendant less time in prison.

Maryland Voluntary Manslaughter Statute

The following table highlights the main provisions of Maryland’s manslaughter statute and some relevant case law or common law.

Code Section Maryland Criminal Law Code, Section 2-207: Manslaughter
What is Prohibited? Voluntary manslaughter is causing the death of another with some provocation that decreases punishment from first or second degree murder. In Maryland, voluntary manslaughter is not just causing the death of another person without aggravating (or malicious or penalty increasing) factors. Voluntary manslaughter is the presence of something that mitigates or decreases the level of guilt.
Penalty Voluntary manslaughter in Maryland can be penalized by either up to 10 years in prison or up to 2 years in jail and a $500 fine.
Defenses As stated above, self-defense could be a defense, or could decrease murder to manslaughter. Innocence or insanity could be defenses. However, walking in on your spouse having sex with another person is NOT adequate provocation to murder anyone.

Also, voluntary intoxication or getting drunk or using drugs of your own will is a defense to first degree murder, but it’s not a defense to second degree murder that would mitigate it to manslaughter. That’s because the intoxicated state can eliminate the acting deliberately or premeditating the murder part of first-degree murder, that isn’t a required part of second-degree murder.
Statute of Limitations Some crimes in Maryland must be prosecuted within a specific time period (called the statute of limitations) or they can never be prosecuted. However, murder and manslaughter are felonies that have no limitation according to the common law. Therefore if you killed (or tried to kill) someone intentionally, even many years ago, it can still come back to haunt you.

Note: State laws change all the time, it’s important to verify the laws you are researching.

Related Resources

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