Minnesota Voluntary Manslaughter Law

Voluntary manslaughter is like murder, in that a person intentionally causes another person’s death. However, it’s also different than murder because the perpetrator acted either out of a sudden passion or anger without having enough time to cool down or was coerced into the killing. Minnesota also provides for certain drug and child abuse related deaths and deaths caused during a violent misdemeanor crime to be punished as voluntary manslaughter.

Voluntary Manslaughter Examples

Two examples of when voluntary manslaughter may be more appropriate than a higher level of homicide, such as first-degree murder or second-degree murder are self-defense and a cheating spouse. When a person acts in self-defense, but overreacts and kills his or her attacker, it may be voluntary manslaughter. A victim may kill his or her abuser in a domestic violence situation. The victim intended to kill, but since it was in self-defense during a "heat of passion" moment, the court may find the defendant guilty of voluntary manslaughter instead of murder. This is the battered women's syndrome defense.

The second example is when a person walks in on his or her spouse having sex with a lover. If at this moment, the person is shocked, grabs a gun in the bedside table, and shoots both of them. The court may find that it was voluntary manslaughter. Conversely, if the person runs away, drinks all night, and then finds the lover at home and kills him or her, the court may find the killer had time to cool down. Thus, it’s murder, not voluntary manslaughter.

Minnesota Voluntary Manslaughter Statute

The following table details the voluntary manslaughter law in Minnesota.

Code Section

Minnesota Statutes Section 609.205 – Manslaughter in the First Degree

What Is Prohibited?

Minnesota law prohibits any intentional killing. However, some types of killings are decreased or mitigated from murder to manslaughter based on the circumstances. Those circumstances in Minnesota that are manslaughter in the first degree are:

  • Killing someone in the “heat of passion” provoked by words or acts that a person with ordinary self-control in similar circumstances would also be provoked
    • Note: the person of ordinary self-control isn’t under the influence of alcohol or drugs, even if the defendant was
  • Causing someone’s death by committing a 5th-degree assault while committing or attempting to commit a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor with violence, such that the death or physical injury was reasonably foreseeable, but 1st or 2nd degree murder wasn’t committed (misdemeanor manslaughter)
  • Intentionally killing another while coerced into reasonably believing that killing the person is the only way to prevent one’s own imminent death or the death of another (think of those terrible survival decisions in the Saw movies)
  • Causing someone’s death, unintentionally, by unlawfully selling, giving away, or administering a Schedule III, IV, or V controlled substance (examples ketamine, human growth hormones, Darvon/Darvocet, meth precursors)
  • Causing the death of a child while committing or attempting malicious punishment of a child (intentional act(s) of unreasonable force or cruel discipline), but murder in the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd degree isn’t committed
Penalty

Manslaughter in the first degree is punished by not more than 15 years in prison and a fine of not more than $30,000.

Defenses

The statute specifically states that a crying child is not adequate provocation for heat of passion voluntary manslaughter in Minnesota. Other defenses may apply to any manslaughter charge, such as innocence, insanity, or “perfect” self-defense (meaning you acted reasonably and justifiably in stopping someone from causing you serious injury or death).

Note: State laws change often, it's important to verify the laws you’re researching.

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