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Massachusetts Voluntary Manslaughter Law

In Massachusetts, voluntary manslaughter is the killing of another person that is intentional, but has some kind of mitigating factor to it. These circumstances can include:

  • Heat of passion caused by reasonable provocation
  • Heat of passion caused by sudden combat
  • Excessive force used in self-defense or in the defense of another.

Voluntary Manslaughter vs. Murder

In Massachusetts the difference between murder and voluntary manslaughter is simple. Both involve purposefully killing someone, however, it is called voluntary manslaughter if the killer acted when his or her thinking was disturbed by emotional excitement to the point that a reasonable person might have acted on impulse without thinking twice. The killing itself must be the result of the emotional excitement or reasonable provocation.

This typically happens when a person is acting in self-defense, but overreacts and kills another person. The person technically acted with the intent to kill, but the self defense was "in the heat of passion" so the court will likely find the person guilty of voluntary manslaughter. The reaction to kill has to happen instantaneously. If the person has had any time to "cool off" before they go perform the killing, it becomes a murder.

Are Words Alone Enough For Reasonable Provocation?

One key thing is that the provocation has to be reasonable. Mere insults are not enough to constitute reasonable provocation. For instance, if someone insults your wardrobe and you kill them, chances are, that wouldn't be considered "adequate provocation."

Ultimately this will be for a judge or jury to decide. However, the law recognizes that emotions produced by provocations and situations like this can be extremely powerful and may cause some people to lose self-control. That loss of self-control makes a homicide into manslaughter, and therefore decreases the level of legal culpability.

The following table highlights the main provisions of the Massachusetts voluntary manslaughter laws. See also, Voluntary Manslaughter Defenses, Voluntary Manslaughter Penalties and Sentences, and Involuntary Manslaughter.

Code Sections MGL Chapter 265, Section 13

"Heat of Passion" Crime.

What is Prohibited?

Voluntary manslaughter is a killing that is intentional but not premeditated, such as a killing committed during mutual combat or a killing committed after being provoked by the victim.

Penalty Imprisonment of up to up to 20 years in state prison, fines, and possible victim restitution.

Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.

Charged With a Serious Crime? Talk to a Massachusetts Defense Attorney

Although voluntary manslaughter is a lesser homicide charge compared to murder, it is an extremely serious charge that could result in major prison time. Anytime you are facing time in prison, you need to act in your best interests by hiring a skilled criminal attorney for your defense. Don't delay; find an experienced Massachusetts defense attorney today.

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