Voluntary manslaughter is a serious crime in Florida. If you are charged under Florida’s voluntary manslaughter statute, a good defense is critical to increase your chances of a shorter sentence or of an acquittal. What follows is a discussion of several common defenses to voluntary manslaughter in Florida.
One defense to voluntary manslaughter is to assert that the defendant’s actions were not in fact voluntary, and that the killing in question was an accident. An element of voluntary manslaughter is that the act that led to the killing of another was done on purpose. Although the act may have been careless, the lack of intent means that the crime may be more appropriately charged as involuntary manslaughter, which has a penalty that is less than that of voluntary manslaughter in Florida.
Self defense for voluntary manslaughter is the difference between a perfect self defense or an imperfect self defense. In a perfect self defense claim, the defendant argues that the act in question was done out of a reasonable determination that that force was necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm. However, in the case of an imperfect self defense, the defendant may have acted in a manner calculated to prevent harm to himself, but his belief that the act was necessary was unreasonable, or he used a force greater than necessary to defend himself and death of the attacker was the result.
Defending a charge of voluntary manslaughter by raising a defense of insanity means that the defendant claims that he was insane at the time of the act and thus unable to form the requisite mens rea (intent) for voluntary manslaughter. According to Florida statute, insanity may be used as an affirmative defense if
The defendant had some sort of mental disease or defect at the time of the crime, and
that the condition made the defendant either unable to understand what he was doing, or
unable to understand that the actions they were doing were wrong.
When raised, the defense must show by “clear and convincing evidence” that the defendant was insane at the time of the crime in order to successfully argue insanity as a defense.
Though rare, intoxication can be used as a defense to voluntary manslaughter in Florida. The caveat is that the defendant’s state of intoxication must have been involuntary. If the defendant is responsible for making himself intoxicated (which is usually the case), the voluntary state of intoxication cannot be used to defeat a charge of voluntary manslaughter.
The best possible defense to voluntary manslaughter in Florida is the defense of innocence. As the standard in all criminal trials is that the defendant must be shown to be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, a good defense attorney will work towards instilling reasonable doubt in the mind of the judge or jury. Having an alibi at the time of the crime and bringing in proof of that alibi is one tactic. Also common is for the defense to attack the validity of the evidence brought to court by the prosecution as either misconstrued or mishandled by the state prior to the trial.