California Penal Code 191 PC abolishes the common law doctrine of petit treason, which made it a distinct offense for a wife to kill her husband or for a servant to kill his/her master. All unlawful killings of human beings in California are prosecuted and punished as homicides. And the relationship between the alleged killer and victim has no bearing on the criminal charges.
The full text of the statute reads as follows:
PC 191 The rules of the common law distinguishing the killing of a master by his servant, and of a husband by his wife, as petit treason, are abolished, and these offenses are homicides, punishable in the manner prescribed by this chapter.
California Penal Code 191 PC specifies that any unlawful killing of a person by another person is treated as a homicide. The state no longer follows the old common law principle of petit treason, which made it a separate crime when wives killed their husbands or when servants killed their masters. In short, homicide is homicide no matter the details of the relationship between the alleged killer and victim.1
California has five primary homicide crimes:
- First degree murder (PC 189) – premeditated murder (certain felony-murders).
- Second degree murder (PC 189) – unpremeditated murder (and certain lower-level felony-murders)
- Voluntary manslaughter (PC 192) – killing in the “heat of passion”
- Involuntary manslaughter (PC 192(b)) – unintentional killing through criminal negligence
- Vehicular manslaughter (PC 192(c)) – killing someone in a car accident by driving in an unlawful manner
Although the relationship between the defendant and homicide victim does not affect criminal charges, it can potentially affect the criminal sentence. For instance, if a wife is convicted of killing her husband – or if a domestic worker is convicted of killing his boss – it could be a “mitigating factor” that the husband or boss was physically abusive, and that the wife or domestic worker were victims themselves.
- California Penal Code 191 PC – Petit treason abolished. See, e.g., Cummiskey v. Superior Court (Supreme Court of California, 1992) 3 Cal. 4th 1018 and People v. Tinder (Supreme Court of California, 1862) 19 Cal. 539.