Nevada "Voluntary Manslaughter" Laws (NRS 200.050)

 

Voluntary manslaughter under Nevada law is a type of homicide committed "in the heat of passion" with no premeditation. A typical example is a spouse walking in on the other spouse cheating, and then immediately killing the affair partner in a fit of rage.

A common defense strategy in murder cases is to try to plea bargain the charge down to voluntary manslaughter. As a category B felony, voluntary manslaughter carries:

This is far less than a murder sentence, which may carry life in prison or possibly the death penalty.

Typical defenses that could get manslaughter or murder charges completely dropped include:

In this article, our Las Vegas criminal defense attorneys discuss:

voluntary manslaughter
Voluntary manslaughter is a category B felony in Nevada.

1. What is voluntary manslaughter in Nevada?

Voluntary manslaughter is when a person kills out of rage after having been provoked. It applies in situations where any reasonable person in the killer's shoes would have felt a similar "passion."1 Specifically, the order of events is as follows:

  1. A person suffers a terrible wrong that would upset any normal human being,
  2. The person mentally snaps over having been wronged so unjustly,
  3. In a sudden, heated, violent impulse, the person immediately kills the wrongdoer.
cheating

The classic example of voluntary manslaughter is when a husband unknowingly walks in on his wife in bed with someone else, and the husband promptly pounces on the other man and fatally wounds him. Being betrayed by a life partner is one of the most painful human emotions.

While most reasonable people would not kill over it, most reasonable people would feel the urge to kill over it. Manslaughter charges are reserved for people who act upon that understandable urge to kill.

In order for a homicide to qualify as voluntary manslaughter, the provocation that causes the person to burst into a homicidal rage must be significant.2 Henderson criminal defense attorney Michael Becker gives an example of a situation that would not cause a reasonable person to kill in a fit of passion:

Example: Ephraim is cutting his steak at the Bellagio Buffet when a waiter accidentally spills the water pitcher on him. Enraged that his leather pants are now ruined, Ephraim slices the waiter's neck with the knife, killing him. In this case, no court would find that getting splashed with water is sufficient provocation to cause any reasonable person to fly into a homicidal rage. So he would probably be convicted of the more serious crime of murder (discussed in the next subsection).3

Note that there is no such thing as the crime of "attempted manslaughter." This is because an "attempt" implies acting with deliberation and malice, which is the very opposite of the legal definition of manslaughter.4 So if a betrayed spouse walks in on his wife with another man and immediately strangles him, the spouse would probably face only felony battery charges if the boyfriend survives.

1.1. Voluntary manslaughter versus murder

Unlike murder, manslaughter is done without any premeditation or deliberation. So for a killing to be classified as manslaughter, it must occur as soon as the suspect is provoked.

Even if only a minute or two pass between the provocation and the killing, a jury may decide that the suspect "cooled off" during that interval and had sufficient mental ability to premeditate murder.5 Reno criminal defense attorney Neil Shouse gives an example of how this works:

Example: Charlie walks into his bedroom and is shocked to find his wife in bed with another man. Charlie then runs to his closet, takes out his pistol, loads it, and shoots the other man. In this case, Charlie would likely be liable for murder rather than manslaughter because getting and loading a gun shows premeditation.

Had Charlie in the above example been holding a loaded gun when he walked in on his wife cheating and then immediately shot the boyfriend, Charlie might be able to avoid murder charges. This because there would have been no cooling off period between discovering the betrayal and pulling the trigger.

1.2. Voluntary manslaughter versus involuntary manslaughter

manslaughter

Voluntary manslaughter is an entirely different offense from involuntary manslaughter. Involuntary manslaughter occurs when a person's risky behavior resulted in a death that should have been avoided. It is often referred to as accidental or negligent homicide. An example is carrying a loaded gun that accidentally fires and kills a stranger.

Voluntary and involuntary manslaughter are both felonies. But involuntary manslaughter carries a lower maximum prison sentence.6

1.3. Nevada law versus federal law

The federal definition of voluntary manslaughter is nearly identical to Nevada's. But a federal conviction of voluntary manslaughter carries up to 15 years in prison, which is five (5) years more than the maximum penalty in Nevada law.7 Learn more about federal manslaughter law in Nevada.

2. What are the penalties for voluntary manslaughter in Nevada?

As a category B felony, violating NRS 200.050 carries the following sentence8

Voluntary Manslaughter penalties Range of sentence

prison

1 – 10 years

fines

Up to $10,000 (at the judge's discretion)

The death penalty is not a possible punishment for voluntary manslaughter.9

Depending on the case, it may be possible to get manslaughter charges reduced to involuntary manslaughter, which carries up to four (4) years in prison.10

2.1. Manslaughter as a plea bargain for murder

When a defendant faces murder charges, the criminal defense attorney may be able to persuade the prosecutor to reduce the charge to voluntary manslaughter. This would be a beneficial plea bargain for two reasons:

manslaughter
  1. Voluntary manslaughter carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, whereas murder may carry life in prison or possibly death;11 and
  2. Manslaughter, which is a killing done out of passion, carries less of a social stigma than murder, which is a killing done with malice and deliberation.

3. What are the defenses to voluntary manslaughter charges in Nevada?

Three of the most common defense strategies to charges of violating NRS 200.050 include:

  1. The defendant was acting in self-defense (or defense of others)
  2. The defendant was insane
  3. The incident was an accident

3.1. Self-defense

Nevada law permits people to kill in order to protect themselves or others from immediate death or bodily harm.

Example:  Alice and Betty are strippers at Treasures. A drunk patron is angry that Alice and Betty will not let him touch them. The patron then takes out his gun and points it towards Alice while screaming obscenities. Fearful for her and Betty's life, Alice immediately kicks the patron in the throat with her stiletto, killing him. Alice should not face homicide charges because she reasonably believed their lives were in immediate danger.

Note that self-defense applies only when the defendant is acting reasonably under the circumstances. Had the patron in the above example not flashed a weapon, Alice would not have been justified in killing him...

self-defense

Killing someone else under the unreasonable impression that death is imminent is called "imperfect self-defense." Even if Alice genuinely thought the patron was going to kill her, the patron's actions of merely screaming obscenities without a weapon would not put a reasonable person in immediate fear of her or another's life. "Imperfect self-defense" never serves as a defense to homicide charges.12

3.2. Insanity

Homicide defendants may be found "not guilty by reason of insanity" if they were in a delusional state that prevented them from either:

  • knowing or understanding the nature and capacity of their act; or
  • appreciating that their conduct was illegal.13

This defense may be effective for defendants suffering from severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder:

Example:  Jeff has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. One day while his caretaker is helping him walk upstairs, the caretaker loses his patience at Jeff's manic state and screams, "Good God, why don't you just kill me now and end my suffering!" Taking his caretaker at his word, Jeff immediately pushes him down the stairs. In light of Jeff's mental illness, a Nevada court would probably find that Jeff did not appreciate that his conduct was illegal. Therefore, Jeff would probably escape a homicide conviction.

Note that defendants who are acquitted of homicide by reason of insanity are often committed to a mental institution. Also note that voluntary intoxication does not qualify as insanity.14

3.3. Accident

Deaths that result from innocent accidents are not criminal. Unless the defendant was acting negligently at the time of the killing, the defendant should not face homicide charges for causing an accident:15

Example: Nick is beating his girlfriend Dana at their home. At one point, Dana manages to duck when Nick tries to headbutt her. But this causes Nick to fall forward and hit his head on the marble floor, killing him. Even though Dana was acting in the heat of the moment, she should not face manslaughter charges. Nick falling forward to his death was an unforeseeable accident and should not invite criminal prosecution.

Another possible defense is that the defendant is actually innocent and was falsely accused. No matter the circumstances, prosecutors in criminal cases have the burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. As long as the defense attorney can demonstrate that the D.A.'s evidence is too unreliable or inadequate to sustain a conviction, the court should drop the charges.16

4. Can I seal my voluntary manslaughter conviction in Nevada?

record seal

A conviction for violating NRS 200.050 may be sealed ten (10) years after the case ends.17 A case ends when the defendant has completed his/her sentence, including any probation.

But if the charge gets dismissed (meaning there is no conviction), then the defendant may pursue a record seal right away. The entire process to seal a record takes several weeks.18

5. Can I get deported for voluntary manslaughter?

Yes, because violating NRS 200.050 is a crime involving moral turpitude.19 Non-citizens arrested for any homicide charge are advised to retain legal counsel right away.

The attorney may be able to get the charge dismissed or reduced to a non-deportable offense so the defendant may stay in the U.S. Learn more about the criminal defense of immigrants in Nevada.

6. Related homicide offenses

Nevada homicide offenses Definition

Attempted Murder (NRS 200.030)

Attempting but failing to kill someone.

Felony Murder (NRS 200.030)

Homicide committed in perpetration of certain serious felonies, such as rape, robbery, kidnapping, or child/elder abuse.

Capital Murder (NRS 200.033)

First-degree murder where there is at least one aggravating circumstance that outweighs any mitigating ones.

Vehicular Manslaughter (NRS 484B.657)

A driver who negligently causes another's death.

Vehicular Homicide (NRS 484C.130)

A drunk or high driver with 3 prior DUI convictions who causes another's death while behind the wheel.

Feticide (NRS 200.210)

Terminating an unborn baby is manslaughter unless a licensed physician is performing a lawful abortion.

Death by drugs (N.R.S. 453.333)

Unlawfully providing someone with a controlled substance that then causes the person's death is murder.

Call a Nevada criminal defense attorney...

If you have been accused of homicide in Nevada, phone our Las Vegas criminal defense lawyers at 702-DEFENSE (702-333-3673) for a free consultation. We may be able to get the charges reduced or dismissed. And if necessary, we will fight all the way to trial for a "not guilty" verdict.

Arrested in California? Go to our page on California Voluntary Manslaughter law.

Arrested in Colorado? Go to our page on Colorado Manslaughter law.


Legal References

  1. NRS 200.040 “Manslaughter” defined. 1. Manslaughter is the unlawful killing of a human being, without malice express or implied, and without any mixture of deliberation. 2. Manslaughter must be voluntary, upon a sudden heat of passion, caused by a provocation apparently sufficient to make the passion irresistible, or involuntary, in the commission of an unlawful act, or a lawful act without due caution or circumspection; NRS 200.050 “Voluntary manslaughter” defined. 1. In cases of voluntary manslaughter, there must be a serious and highly provoking injury inflicted upon the person killing, sufficient to excite an irresistible passion in a reasonable person, or an attempt by the person killed to commit a serious personal injury on the person killing; Hancock v. State, 80 Nev. 581, 397 P.2d 181 (1964)("The crime of manslaughter does not require the specific intent to kill...").
  2. Roberts v. State, 102 Nev. 170, 717 P.2d 1115 (1986)("The crime of voluntary manslaughter is defined and described in NRS 200.040, NRS 200.050 and NRS 200.060, the pertinent language being set forth in the margin. It appears that there is some evidence in this case to support a jury finding that the crime of manslaughter had been committed. Indeed, the trial judge himself observed that the jury could have inferred that the defendant was acting in the heat of passion. That there is evidence to support a finding of the "sudden" nature of the passion cannot be gainsaid. NRS 200.040 requires that the "sudden heat of passion" be caused by "a provocation apparently sufficient to make the passion irresistible." NRS 200.050 additionally defines sufficient provocation in terms of a "serious and highly provoking injury inflicted upon the person killing.""); Roberts v. State, 102 Nev. 170, 717 P.2d 1115 (1986)("As indicated, the defendant and the victim had a long-standing relationship. He continued after their separation to provide her with financial support and to see her romantically. He said that he considered the victim and her children to be his family. The day of the killing was to a large degree dedicated to her convenience. He had taken a half day off from his job to furnish her son with a truck. He ran an errand for her and expected to spend that evening with her. He would have been justified in viewing her "standing him up" as a callused insult, greatly aggravated by her taking up sexually with another man on the night of his planned get-together with her. It is not unreasonable to infer from such circumstances that his discovery provoked him into a sudden and excessive anger or "heat of passion," as the statute reads.").
  3. See State v. Fisko, 58 Nev. 65, 70 P.2d 1113 (1937)("It is not every assault that reduces murder to manslaughter...And the provocation must be great where a deadly weapon is used.").
  4. Curry v. State, 106 Nev. 317, 792 P.2d 396 (1990)("By definition, [violating NRS 200.050] is a general intent crime. One cannot logically specifically intend to act pursuant to a spontaneous, unanticipated and therefore, truly irresistible passion. An "attempt," as defined in NRS 193.330, is a specific intent crime. The accused must formulate a specific intent to commit the crime attempted. See Bailey v. State, 100 Nev. 562, 563, 688 P.2d 320, 321 (1984). We further defined the intent necessary for an attempted crime in Keys v. State, 104 Nev. 736, 766 P.2d 270 (1988), when we stated: An attempt, by nature, is a failure to accomplish what one intended to do. Attempt means to try; it means an effort to bring about the desired result. Thus one cannot attempt to be negligent or attempt to have the general malignant recklessness contemplated by the legal concept, "implied malice" (emphasis in original). Id. at 740, 766 P.2d at 273. The crime of attempted voluntary manslaughter is therefore an illogical illusion.").
  5. NRS 200.060 When killing punished as murder. The killing must be the result of that sudden, violent impulse of passion supposed to be irresistible; for, if there should appear to have been an interval between the assault or provocation given and the killing, sufficient for the voice of reason and humanity to be heard, the killing shall be attributed to deliberate revenge and punished as murder; Collins v. State, 405 P.3d 657 (2017)("It may be questioned whether [violating NRS 200.050] qualifies under the elements test as a lesser-included offense of murder, given that murder does not have as one of its elements the provocation and passion voluntary manslaughter requires. But...existing case law...treats voluntary manslaughter as a lesser-included offense of murder."); Allen v. State, 98 Nev. 354, 647 P.2d 389 (1982)("Voluntary manslaughter is defined by NRS 200.050 and NRS 200.060. It consists of a killing which is the result of a sudden, violent and irresistible impulse of passion. The law requires that the irresistible impulse of passion be caused by a serious and highly provoking injury, or attempted injury, sufficient to excite such passion in a reasonable person. If there is an interval between the provocation and the killing sufficient for the passion to cool and the voice of reason to be heard, the killing will be punished as murder. NRS 200.060; see Jackson v. State, 84 Nev. 203, 438 P.2d 795 (1968). Whether the interval between the provocation and the killing is sufficient for the passions of a reasonable person to cool is not measured exclusively by any precise time. What constitutes a sufficient cooling-off period also depends upon the magnitude of the provocation and the degree to which passions are aroused."); Jackson v. State, 84 Nev. 203, 438 P.2d 795 (1968)("The distance between the scene of the fight at the pickup truck to Jackson's car to which he walked after he was knocked to the ground by England and the time it took to go there, remove the rifle from his automobile, load and fire it, rules out the sudden irresistible impulse that makes up voluntary manslaughter."); Graves v. State, 84 Nev. 262, 439 P.2d 476 (1968)("...this court has held that a trial court is justified in refusing to give an instruction on the crime of manslaughter if there is no evidence to support such an instruction....The presence of malice precludes an instruction on the crime of manslaughter.").
  6. NRS 200.070.
  7. 18 U.S. Code § 1112.
  8. NRS 200.080 Punishment for voluntary manslaughter. A person convicted of the crime of [violating NRS 200.050] is guilty of a category B felony and shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison for a minimum term of not less than 1 year and a maximum term of not more than 10 years, and may be further punished by a fine of not more than $10,000.
  9. NRS 200.030.
  10. NRS 200.090.
  11. NRS 200.030.
  12. Hill v. State, 98 Nev. 295, 647 P.2d 370 (1982)("The California Supreme Court held that if a defendant entertained an honest, but unreasonable, belief in the necessity of self-defense, at most he could be convicted only of manslaughter, since such a belief is inconsistent with and negates malice, an element of murder. We reject this "imperfect self-defense" theory because, unlike California's statutory scheme, NRS 200.040 and NRS 200.050 provide an express restriction on the situations giving rise to voluntary manslaughter.").
  13. Finger v. State, 117 Nev. 548, 27 P.3d 66 (2001)("In order to be considered legally insane under M'Naghten, a defendant must labor under a delusion so great that he is incapable of appreciating his surroundings. This delusion must do one of two things: (1) rob the defendant of the ability to understand what he is doing; or (2) deprive the defendant of the ability to appreciate that his action is wrong, that is, not authorized by law.").
  14. State v. Fisko, 58 Nev. 65, 70 P.2d 1113 (1937)("While the authorities are not all agreed, the great weight thereof in this country is to the effect that mere intoxication cannot reduce murder to manslaughter.").
  15. See NRS 200.010-060.
  16. NRS 175.191.
  17. NRS 179.245.
  18. NRS 179.255.
  19. INA § 237(a)(2)(A).

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