Voluntary Manslaughter Penalties and Sentencing
Once a jury has convicted a defendant of voluntary manslaughter, the court will hand down the punishment that the state or federal government will impose upon the defendant.
The exact punishment depends on a number of factors. The most important factor is the actual language of the law that governs the punishment for manslaughter in the jurisdiction. Statutes will generally contain a single punishment or a range of punishments that courts can choose from when setting a penalty for a conviction. But the inquiry doesnt end there.
Judges can also consider aggravating and mitigating factors when handing down sentences. Aggravating factors will usually add to a sentence, while mitigating factors generally reduce the severity of a punishment.
It's important to note, though, that the judges should only consider factors that have been tried before a jury, or else risk running afoul of the right to counsel guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.
The Statutory Language
The actual laws that prohibit voluntary manslaughter will often contain specific sentences, but it is more likely that they will list a range of potential penalties for the crime. These laws often leave the exact punishment up to the judge in the case.
For instance, the federal law against voluntary manslaughter states that defendants should receive fines, a prison sentence of not more than ten years or both. Californias manslaughter law, on the other hand, gets a little more specific and states that anyone found guilty of manslaughter should receive a prison sentence of 3, 6 or 11 years.
In both instances, judges have some leeway to determine the specific sentence that they will give a particular defendant. This is where aggravating and mitigating factors come into play.
Aggravating and Mitigating Factors
In order to settle on an exact sentence, courts will examine the circumstances surrounding the crime in order to determine the appropriate penalty. These circumstances fall into two categories: aggravating factors and mitigating factors.
Aggravating factors are those facts about the crime, the defendant or the victim that tend to make the crime more serious, and thus more deserving of a harsher sentence. Courts typically consider such aggravating factors as the brutality of the crime, the defendants criminal history and the vulnerability of the victim, among others. The more aggravating factors there are, the more likely it is that the defendant will receive a tough sentence.
Mitigating factors, on the other hand, tend to reduce sentences. Mitigating factors show that the defendant poses less risk to society than they would otherwise, so a lengthy sentence is unnecessary. Typical mitigating factors include the lack of a criminal history and the defendants acceptance of responsibility for the crime.
The exact procedure will depend on the rules of the jurisdiction that is holding the trial, but there will generally be a hearing to allow the prosecution and defense to present aggravating and mitigating factors. After that, the judge will consider all the factors present in the case then determine the sentence and announce it in court.