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Pennsylvania Voluntary Manslaughter Laws

Overview of Pennsylvania Voluntary Manslaughter Laws

Criminal homicide, the unlawful death of a human being, includes two types of manslaughter: voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter. In general, both types of manslaughter are lesser crimes than any of the murder charges available in Pennsylvania.

State law establishes either "heat of passion" or "unreasonable belief" as the basis for a voluntary manslaughter charge. A heat of passion homicide describes a killing that happens suddenly while a provocation affects the defendant's judgment and intentions. Pennsylvania law requires an objective review of the provocative circumstances and does not permit a subjective review — the act of provocation must be one that would cause a passionate or emotional reaction in any reasonable person.

Pennsylvania law disqualifies a defendant from a voluntary manslaughter charge if the defendant had enough time to cool off or calm down between the act of provocation and the homicide. The state must review the complete series of events leading up to the killing. If enough time passed between the provocation and the killing, a prosecutor may be able to meet the legal requirements to charge the defendant with murder.

In addition, state law allows voluntary manslaughter as a criminal charge if the defendant committed a homicide based on an unreasonable belief. Specifically, the defendant must have had a mistaken belief that she needed to use deadly force against the victim in order to protect herself or another person. However, if a prosecutor can show that the defendant created or escalated the unsafe situation, the state may be able to pursue a murder charge.

Defenses to Voluntary Manslaughter Charges

  • Self-defense or battered women's syndrome
  • Accidental killing without criminal intent while engaging in lawful activity

Penalties and Sentences

Pennsylvania law sets voluntary manslaughter as a first degree felony. If convicted, a defendant can face a sentence of imprisonment for up to 20 years.

The state also requires minimum sentencing for defendants who have two or more convictions for violent offenses. If the current conviction for voluntary manslaughter is the defendant's third violent offense, Pennsylvania law requires a minimum sentence of imprisonment for 25 years, with the option of increasing the sentence to life imprisonment without parole if necessary for public safety.

Pennsylvania Voluntary Manslaughter Statute

18 Pa. Cons. Stat. section 2503
18 Pa. Cons. Stat. section 1103

Note: State laws are constantly changing -- please contact a Pennsylvania criminal defense attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

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