District of Columbia Voluntary Manslaughter Law

Certain types of provocation have the potential to create an intense passion in the minds of many. Imagine coming home after a long day of work to find your significant other lying in bed with your best friend. This type of provocation may be adequate to create a "heat of passion" response that entices a person to take another person's life. District of Columbia law classifies this type of killing as voluntary manslaughter, rather than murder. This is a quick summary of voluntary manslaughter in the District of Columbia.

District of Columbia Voluntary Manslaughter Law at a Glance

An individual commits voluntary manslaughter when that person intends to kill another human without malice aforethought. In other words, it wasn't planned out. The intent to kill is created by a sudden and extraordinary anger (the "heat of the moment") due to a specific circumstance witnessed by the defendant. The key elements for voluntary manslaughter is that an ordinary person standing in the shoes of the defendant must also have been provoked by this circumstance and that the defendant was actually provoked by the actions that he witnessed.

The following table outlines the specifics of the District of Columbia's voluntary manslaughter law.

Code Sections

District of Columbia Official Code ยง22-21: Murder; Manslaughter

What's Prohibited?

Since D.C. law does not provide a specific definition for voluntary manslaughter, the common law definition will most likely be followed in this jurisdiction. Under common law, a murder would be reduce to voluntary manslaughter if the killing occurred due to adequate provocation. The provocation must be sufficient to arouse the sudden and intense passion in the mind of an ordinary person. The killer must actually be provoked and there must not be a sufficient "cooling off" period.


Under D.C.'s voluntary manslaughter law, whoever is guilty of manslaughter will be sentenced to a period of imprisonment up to 30 years.

Self Defense

The law states that a person has the right to use a reasonable amount of force in self-defense if he or she actually believes that there is imminent danger of bodily harm and if he or she has reasonable grounds for that belief. The question is whether the defendant, under the circumstances according to the defendant, actually believed that imminent danger of bodily harm was present and that belief was reasonable.

Charges involving the death of another human being are extremely serious. It is important that you fully understand the extent of your charges and your rights. If you have been accused of voluntary manslaughter and require legal assistance, you can contact an District of Columbia criminal defense lawyer through FindLaw. Visit FindLaw's sections on voluntary manslaughter and criminal charges for more articles and information on this topic.

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