The laws in Florida defining and prosecuting voluntary manslaughter are complex. Though many Floridians profess a knowledge of what does and does not constitute voluntary manslaughter, the issue is frequently more nuanced than most laypeople realize. Here’s what you need to know about the laws governing voluntary manslaughter in Florida.
Historians believe the crime of killing another human being but with a lesser intent first entered Western Civilization in the 7th century BC by way of the Athenian lawmaker Draco, the first known legislator of ancient Greece. Although Draco’s name forms the root of the word “draconian,” Draco’s reforms of the Greek system moved it beyond oral law and blood feuds by means of establishing a written code. Though only known via a highly-fragmented inscription, the laws governing murder were bifurcated into intentional murder and unintentional murder, the latter of the two being punished in Ancient Greece by exile.
In Florida, voluntary manslaughter is broadly defined as the intentional killing of another human being as a result of provocation, or in the “heat of passion.” In order to obtain a conviction of voluntary manslaughter, the state must prove several things, specifically
a sudden or unexpected event that constitutes provocation,
a temporary strong emotion that yielded an intent to kill, and
an act that resulted in a killing.
Unlike murder, voluntary manslaughter does not require the prosecution to show premeditation beyond immediately before the killing, or the “depraved mind” of the defendant that drove him or her to kill.
Acts that constitute provocation relative to a voluntary manslaughter conviction are many. However, the important distinction here is whether the provocation is adequate or reasonable to drive the defendant to commit a killing. Whether or not the provocation was adequate or reasonable is put to the jury in Florida, who must decide whether such a provocation would cause a reasonable person to lose his self control. Note that whether or not it caused the defendant to lose his self control isn’t relevant, only whether the act would have caused a reasonable person in those circumstances to fail to maintain self control.
The mens rea (or state of mind) required to sustain a voluntary manslaughter conviction is identical to that of more serious murder charges. The defining difference is the existence of a reasonable provocation that prompted him or her to develop a desire to kill.
Voluntary manslaughter is not specifically defined as a crime in Florida. Instead, a defendant suspected of voluntary manslaughter is charged with the crime of manslaughter, which is a second degree felony. Conviction of voluntary manslaughter may be punished by a prison term of up to 15 years and a fine of up to $10,000, though Florida has a mandatory minimum sentence of 9-1/4 years in prison.
If the voluntary manslaughter was committed against a minor, disabled adult, elderly person, or emergency responder doing his or her duty is the more serious crime of aggravated manslaughter, which is a first degree felony and may be punished by up to thirty years in prison.
Similarly, using a weapon or firearm in the commission of voluntary manslaughter increases the crime to a first degree felony with a more severe sentence.