How a Prior Conviction Can Turn Manslaughter Into Murder
Voluntary manslaughter in Georgia refers to a situation where a person “causes the death of another human being under circumstances which would otherwise be murder,” except for “a sudden, violent, and irresistible passion” arising from an act that would provoke a reasonable person. To give a common hypothetical example, if two people get into a fight at a bar and one of them ends up killing the other, that would likely be prosecuted as a case of voluntary manslaughter. But if there is any “cooling off” period between the initial prosecution and the killing, it will be treated as murder instead.
While voluntary manslaughter is a serious felony charge–punishable by up to 20 years in prison under Georgia law–it is still less harsh than a potential murder conviction, which can lead to life imprisonment or even the death penalty under certain circumstances.
Georgia Man on Probation Sentenced for Murder in Gun Killing
One thing to keep in mind, however, is that if a death occurs while the defendant is committing another felony, that can also lead to Georgia prosecutors charging the defendant with felony murder. For instance, if a defendant kills someone in the course of committing a robbery, that is a felony murder. But a felony murder can also elevate a “crime of passion” that would have otherwise been treated as involuntary manslaughter under Georgia law.
Consider this recent case, Owens v. State. This case began when the defendant was socializing with some friends in the parking lot of an apartment complex. Another man arrived at the parking lot and challenged the defendant to a fistfight. As the other man “pulled his hands out of his pants,” the defendant pulled a 9mm handgun from his waistband and shot the other man, who died as a result.
While these facts support an involuntary manslaughter conviction, prosecutors charged the defendant with felony murder. The predicate felony in this case was the fact the defendant was on first-offender probation, which meant he could not legally possess a firearm. So the trial court ultimately convicted and sentenced the defendant for felony murder.
On appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court, the defendant argued that his felony murder conviction should have “merged” into the voluntary manslaughter verdict and he should be sentenced for the lesser offense. The Supreme Court disagreed. It explained that “merger” was allowed only when the predicate felony was integral to the homicide itself. For example, since just about every manslaughter involves assault, it would make no sense to allow a felony murder conviction based on that assault. But in this case, the defendant’s illegal possession of a firearm was “independent” of the victim’s killing, so the felony murder conviction was appropriate.
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Many Georgia residents with prior criminal records get caught up in weapons charges due to their status as probationers. If you have been charged with a crime and need legal advice from a skilled Dumwoody gun crime lawyer, contact Hawkins Spizman today to schedule a free consultation. We serve clients throughout Georgia including Atlanta, Dunwoody, Alpharetta, Cobb County, Fulton County, Gwinnett County, Johns Creek and Sandy Springs.