LAW 535-001 – Criminal Law

Voluntary Manslaughter


Common Law

At common law, voluntary manslaughter is defined as the intentional killing committed in "sudden heat of passion" as the result of "adequate provocation."

  • i.e. Killing another without malice aforethought.

There are four elements to common law manslaughter:

  1. Heat of Passion

    Acting in heat of passion means acting under the effect of a intense emotion such as fear, jealousy, or desperation instead of acting under reason.

    To satisfy the element of manslaughter, the defendant must have acted in heat of passion at the moment of the homicide.

  2. Adequate Provocation

    It is up to the jury to determine what constitutes adequate provocation, but they are typically instructed to apply an objective "reasonable person" standard.

    In most jurisdictions, words are never adequate provocation.

  3. The defendant must not have had a reasonable opportunity to cool off.
  4. There must be a causal link between the provocation, passion, and homicide.
Model Penal Code
MPC § 210.3(1)
  1. Criminal homicide constitutes manslaughter when:
    1. it is committed recklessly; or
    2. a homicide which would otherwise be murder is committed under the influence of extreme mental or emotional disturbance for which there is reasonable explanation or excuse. The reasonableness of such explanation or excuse shall be determined from the viewpoint of a person in the actor's situation under the circumstances as he believes them to be.
Extreme Mental or Emotional Disturbance
MPC § 210.3(1)(b)

[Criminal homicide constitutes manslaughter when] a homicide which would otherwise be murder is committed under the influence of extreme mental or emotional disturbance for which there is reasonable explanation or excuse. The reasonableness of such explanation or excuse shall be determined from the viewpoint of a person in the actor's situation under the circumstances as he believes them to be.

The concept of EMED is intended to incorporate the two common law doctrines of sudden heat of passion (but greatly expanded) and partial responsibility due to diminished capacity.

EMED is broader than the common law provocation defense because:

  1. A specific provocative act is not required.
  2. Even if there is a provocation, it need not involve "an injury, affront, or other provocative act perpetrated upon [the defendant] by the decedent."
  3. Even if the decedent provoked the incident, it need not fall within any fixed category of provocations.
  4. Words alone can warrant a manslaughter instruction.
  5. There is no rigid cooling-off rule. The suddenness requirement of the common law—that the homicide must follow almost immediately after the provocation—is absent form the EMED defense.