What is Heat of Passion Manslaughter? What is the Difference between First Degree Murder and Voluntary Manslaughter?


7/11/2018

“Heat of passion” voluntary manslaughter in Philadelphia requires the jury to find that at the time of the killing, the defendant acted under a sudden and intense passion resulting from serious provocation. Passion in terms of voluntary manslaughter means anger and terror that is so intense, strong, and high that it prevents the defendant from being able to reason or decide between right and wrong. It must be a sudden passion – for example, if the defendant sat for days trying to decide whether to kill his wife’s lover, that is not sudden. However, if the defendant walks in on his wife and her lover in bed and shoots them both, a jury may find beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant acted with the sudden and intense passion required to support a voluntary manslaughter conviction.

In Pennsylvania, first degree murder is an intentional killing – it must be willful, deliberate, and premeditated. Premeditation does not require the defendant to sit and plan the murder. Premeditation can occur in a split second. Think about it – you see a bug flying around your house while reading the newspaper. It lands on the table in front of you. Within seconds, you swat and kill the bug with the newspaper. You’ve just committed the first degree murder of that insect.

In both first degree murder and voluntary manslaughter, the defendant commits the act with the intent to kill. He meant to shoot his wife’s lover. He meant to kill that bug. The difference between first degree murder and voluntary manslaughter is whether he did so acting under a sudden and intense passion resulting from serious provocation. Was he sufficiently provoked? Was he so angry and overcome with sudden rage such that he was incapable of cooling off?

Sometimes the best outcome next to a not-guilty verdict in a murder case is a verdict for heat of passion voluntary manslaughter or heat of passion manslaughter. Lauren A. Wimmer recently represented a young man, AP, who was charged with first degree murder and various weapons offenses in New Jersey. The prosecutor’s office refused to offer AP anything less than thirty (30) years. According to the statements of various witnesses, AP took a taxi to the apartment complex in New Jersey where his ex-girlfriend lived. He exited the taxi and asked neighbors standing outside one of the buildings, “Where is he?” Witnesses told police they saw AP adjusting his waistband as if he had a firearm. Seconds after AP walked around the building, neighbors heard a single shot. Video footage from the apartment complex showed AP approach another man and shoot him point-blank in the head. After two weeks of testimony, Lauren A. Wimmer was able to convince the jury that AP shot the man in the heat of passion. A conviction for New Jersey Heat of Passion is a second degree felony resulting in a sentence of five (5) to ten (10) years.  

If you have been charged with murder in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, you need to start building a strong defense now. Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer Lauren A. Wimmer served as the judicial law clerk to a homicide judge in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas where she was responsible for researching case law and drafting the opinions for cases where a jury or judge found the defendant guilty of murder. Life is too precious and too valuable to waste hiring an attorney who does not have the experience dealing with homicide cases that Philadelphia criminal defense attorney Lauren Wimmer does. At Wimmer Criminal Defense, we take the time to explain the criminal process and what you can expect in court. If you are suspected of murder or have been charged with murder, call (215) 712-1212 for a risk free consultation today.