What is Voluntary Manslaughter vs. Crime of Passion in UT?

Voluntary manslaughter and “crimes of passion” represent a complex intersection of law, emotion, and societal values in Utah. These cases are often challenging as the state seeks to balance the need for accountability in the wake of violent acts with an understanding of the profound impact of human mistakes during a volatile situation.

While voluntary manslaughter is considered less serious than murder, a conviction can still lead to significant prison time. The charge of murder is downgraded to manslaughter if the defendant can prove they had a reasonable, yet mistaken, justification to use force. Additionally, “provocation” can have a murder conviction reduced to manslaughter. However, the burden is on you to prove that you were provoked to act. Our team can help you prepare your defense, gather important evidence, and interview witnesses who can help corroborate your statements.

Call Overson Law, PLLC at (801) 758-2287 for a free case evaluation with our Salt Lake City voluntary manslaughter defense lawyers.

Understanding Voluntary Manslaughter in Utah?

Manslaughter is a term that often generates confusion. It is a type of homicide that differs from “murder” as most people understand it. When it comes to distinguishing between different forms of homicide, the key factor is often the mental state of the perpetrator and the circumstances in which the act was committed. Generally speaking, manslaughter requires evidence that the perpetrator had the intention to kill but no justifiable reason for doing so.

Under Utah Code § 76-5-205, a person can be convicted of manslaughter if they recklessly kill another person. This usually happens through an egregious mistake. Voluntary manslaughter, on the other hand, can be charged where deadly force was intended but the person believed they had a right to use that force.

According to Utah Code § 76-5-203(4), “voluntary” manslaughter refers to a killing that would have been considered murder, but the defendant presented a defense that, viewed from a reasonable person’s perspective, showed they believed at the time lethal force was necessary. That is where our Utah voluntary manslaughter defense attorneys can help by gathering evidence to show you had this reasonable belief. The mistake does not relinquish them from responsibility but the law recognizes that mistakes do happen, even deadly ones.

Distinguishing Voluntary Manslaughter from a Crime of Passion in Utah

People often use “crime of passion” and “adequate provocation” synonymously but the terms are not exactly equal. A person can commit a crime of passion, like murder, without having adequate provocation. For instance, words alone are not usually enough to argue provocation, so the charge would still be murder even if the words were enough to mitigate it to voluntary manslaughter. While the two terms are similar, the technical difference is whether the provocation standard applies.

In contrast to voluntary manslaughter, a “adequate provocation” occurs when a perpetrator acts in the heat of the moment because of a sudden provocation that would affect the ability of an average person to control their actions. In these cases, the perpetrator might not have intended to kill, but their actions still resulted in the death of another person. Common examples include romantic disputes, infidelity, and other personal confrontations.

To mitigate murder charges to manslaughter, the defendant must demonstrate that the provocation was sufficient to cause extreme emotional distress in a reasonable person, as per Utah Code § 76-5-205.5(2)(b). This means that the provocation must be significant enough to cause a person to act impulsively and without thinking rather than taking a more measured or calculated response.

Additionally, the provocation and the act of killing must happen in the same instance. This means that the defendant must have acted immediately after being provoked, with no opportunity to cool off or regain their composure. This is because a crime of passion is seen as a momentary loss of control rather than a premeditated act of violence.

What Are the Penalties for Voluntary Manslaughter in Utah?

Voluntary manslaughter is a serious criminal offense and is classified as a second-degree felony under Utah Code § 76-5-205(3). If convicted, an individual might face a potential prison term ranging from one to 15 years and might also be required to pay a fine of up to $10,000 in addition to any restitution or compensation deemed necessary for the victim’s family or estate, as per Utah Code § 76-5-203(2).

Several factors are considered when determining the exact sentence for voluntary manslaughter, including the defendant’s criminal history, the circumstances surrounding the offense, victim impact statements, and the defendant’s level of remorse.

The defendant’s prior criminal record can have a significant impact on sentencing, with repeat offenders likely to face harsher penalties. The specific details of the incident, such as the manner of death, the defendant’s mental state, and the presence of any aggravating or mitigating circumstances, are carefully considered.

Testimonies from the victim’s family or representatives about the impact of the crime can also play a pivotal role in determining the severity of the sentence. Demonstrating remorse and a willingness to accept responsibility for their actions might also be considered as mitigating factors that can lead to a reduced sentence for the defendant.

Utah law also allows for both aggravating and mitigating factors to adjust the baseline sentence for voluntary manslaughter. Aggravating factors might include the use of a deadly weapon, the vulnerability of the victim, or particularly cruel behavior during the commission of the crime.

Conversely, mitigating factors could encompass evidence of provocation, the defendant’s mental health issues, or a lack of criminal history. Ultimately, the court will weigh all of these factors together before imposing a sentence.

Common Defenses Made in Utah Voluntary Manslaughter Cases

The following defenses can help mitigate the severity of your charges or, in some cases, lead to an acquittal:


One of the most common defenses in voluntary manslaughter cases is self-defense. Utah Code § 76-2-402 recognizes the right of an individual to use reasonable force, including deadly force, to protect themselves from an imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm. If you reasonably believed you had the right to use lethal force, but you were mistaken as to the deadly nature of the situation, you can assert self-defense as a reason for committing the crime. Our attorneys will know what facts are important to argue in your case to show you were reasonably defending yourself.

Defense of Others

Closely related to self-defense is the defense of others. This defense allows a person to use force to protect another individual who is in imminent danger of being killed or seriously injured. Like self-defense, defense of others can be used if you were mistaken about the deadly threat but believed it was necessary to protect the other person’s life.

Our Voluntary Manslaughter Defense Lawyers Can Provide the Support You Need if You Have Been Charged with a Crime of Passion in Utah

For a free case review, contact our West Valley City criminal defense attorneys at Overson Law, PLLC, by calling (801) 758-2287 today.