Does a trial court have an obligation to instruct a sua sponte on a voluntary manslaughter based on unreasonable self-defense based on provocation?

California, United States of America


The following excerpt is from People v. Neasman, 13 Cal.App.4th 1779, 17 Cal.Rptr.2d 452 (Cal. App. 1993):

Defendant relies on People v. Wickersham (1982) 32 Cal.3d 307, 185 Cal.Rptr. 436, 650 P.2d 311 for his contention the trial court had a sua sponte obligation to instruct on provocation. In Wickersham, the court concluded the trial court was not obligated to instruct sua sponte on voluntary manslaughter based on unreasonable self-defense because "appellant was not relying on unreasonable self-defense and ... this theory was inconsistent with her proffered defense [of accidental shooting]." (Id., at p. 329, 185 Cal.Rptr. 436, 650 P.2d 311.)

The court found error, however, in failing to instruct on second degree murder. "Thus, where the evidence of provocation would justify a jury determination that the accused had formed the intent to kill as a direct response to the provocation and had acted immediately, the trial court is required to give instructions on second degree murder under this theory. The fact that heated words were exchanged or a physical struggle took place between the victim and the accused before the fatality may be sufficient to raise a reasonable doubt in the minds of the jurors regarding whether the accused planned the killing in advance." (People v. Wickersham, supra, 32 Cal.3d 307, 329, 185 Cal.Rptr. 436, 650 P.2d 311.)

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Does a defendant's objection to giving instructions on voluntary manslaughter preclude a finding of error in the trial court's failure to do so? (California, United States of America)
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