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Mitigating Circumstances Can Reduce Murder Charges to Manslaughter Under Hawaii Law

In Hawaii, conviction for murder can potentially carry a sentence ranging from 20 years to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole in the case of particularly heinous, cruel acts. While manslaughter is still a serious Class A felony offense, persons convicted of manslaughter typically receive lesser sentences than those convicted of murder. The prosecutor often has significant discretion when deciding how to charge a defendant. An important role of a criminal defense attorney is to negotiate lesser charges whenever possible. 

At one time, Hawaii law offered a general definition of manslaughter that may have been subject to a significant degree of interpretation. However, the Hawaii State Legislature has since tightened the definition of manslaughter to circumstances such as the following:

  • Killing caused by mental or emotional disturbances
  • Killing in the heat of passion
  • Intentionally causing someone to commit suicide

In other words, the law considers state of mind even in cases of malicious intent. This is not to say that state of mind is guaranteed to protect defendants from murder charges. In fact, in this rare circumstance, the burden of proof falls on defendants - and neither prosecutors nor the courts typically take these claims lightly. However, many cases lend themselves to this defense.

As strange as it may sound, not all people who kill do so maliciously. An important role of criminal defense lawyers is to review the prosecution's evidence and conduct their own thorough investigations into the underlying circumstances leading up to the crimes. With appropriate evidence, they can potentially negotiate reduced charges for their clients.

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  • United States District Court, Northern District of California
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