This is part II of my explanation of Washington, D.C. homicide laws and their consequences. As previously noted in part I, a Second Degree Murder (“SDM”) charge can be reduced to Voluntary Manslaughter (“VM”) when certain mitigating circumstances are present.  A Manslaughter conviction is preferable to a SDM conviction because the penalties are less severe.  Of course, you don’t just have to settle for a VM conviction if you are ever facing homicide charges.  An experienced D.C. criminal defense attorney can ensure that you have the strongest defense and that your rights are adequately protected.

Voluntary Manslaughter is defined as an intentional homicide committed under extenuating circumstances which mitigate, but do not justify or excuse, the killing.  Mitigating circumstances are present in two situations. The first is when the defendant acts in the heat of passion caused by adequate provocation.


Heat of passion includes such emotions as rage, resentment, anger, terror, and fear.  Adequate provocation is conduct on the part of another that would cause an ordinary, reasonable person in the heat of the moment to lose his/her self-control and act on impulse and without reflection.  Mere words, no matter how offensive, are never adequate provocation.

A common voluntary manslaughter scenario involves an individual who catches his or her spouse having an affair, and in the heat of the moment kills the spouse or lover.  The defendant in this situation can be found guilty of VM instead of (“SDM”) if a jury finds that the defendant was adequately provoked by his or her spouse’s infidelity and that the adequate provocation caused the defendant to impulsively kill his or her spouse in the heat of the moment.

Mitigating circumstances also exist when the defendant believed that he or she was in danger of serious bodily injury, and actually believed that the use of force was necessary to avoid that injury. This belief does not constitute self-defense, however, when both of the defendant’s beliefs are not reasonable.

To be convicted of VM, the government must prove that the defendant intentionally caused the death of another or acted in conscious disregard of an extreme risk of death or serious bodily injury to the victim.  The government must also prove that you did not act in self-defense.  Since the penalties for a VM conviction are less severe than a SDM conviction, it is important that you hire an experienced criminal defense attorney who can argue that mitigating circumstances were present.

While mitigating circumstances, if present, can lesson a SDM charge, mitigating circumstances are not a defense to VM.  Also, mitigating circumstances cannot lesson a VM charge to an Involuntary Manslaughter (“IM”) charge.  VM is an intentional offense whereas IM is an unintentional offense.  Neither heat of passion nor adequate provocation can mitigate your intent.  You either intended to commit the crime or you didn’t.  However, a skilled homicide attorney can challenge the government’s evidence against you that you intended to commit the crime.

Criminal defense lawyer Gretchen Taylor Pousson will make the government prove its case against you and pursue the best possible outcome for your case.  If you or someone you know has been arrested for a DC Homicide, contact attorney Gretchen Taylor Pousson immediately for a full consultation.