Potential Defences to Downgrade a Murder Charge

Posted on: 30 December 2015

The defenses available to a defendant on a murder charge vary from state to state, but all states allow for murder charges to be downgraded to manslaughter if the act was intentional but the intent was not to kill the victim. This includes self defence or violent confrontation where the intent is to stop the victim from harming the defendant.

Family Violence

Murder tends to be an immensely personal crime, with only 26% of crimes occurring where the victim and assailant are strangers. Within the family this often includes crimes where a jealous partner kills their partner, or a battered partner lashes out over historical abuse. The defence in these cases relies on the fact that the assailant lost control in a moment of passion. The jealous lover defence is slowly losing popularity as community standard move, and the 'reasonable man' test no longer allows a strong reaction by a jealous or spurned lover.

Diminished Responsibility

Another potential defence for murder is diminished responsibility, where the assailant is not fully able to comprehend the repercussions of their actions. This may apply to the following defendants:

  • people with limited cognitive abilities
  • people currently suffering from an episode of mental illness
  • people who have suffered from an injury that leaves them temporarily unable to think clearly
  • people under the influence of drugs

In all cases, the court looks at the extent of the limitations to mental capacity, generally receiving advice from medical professionals to support that assessment.


Manslaughter doesn't just occur when a deliberate action has been taken but also when a negligent action has occurred that causes death. This is often in the capacity of professional work, where reasonable steps have not been taken to prevent people from dying as a result of their workmanship, such as an electrician failing to ground electrical wiring in a house.

Self Defence

All states allow a self defence claim, where people can protect themselves and/or loved ones from a threat of harm. The self defence needs to be reasonable and proportionate to the threat being felt and reasonable in stopping the threat. This defence does not prove mean they are not guilty of any crime, merely that they have not met the criteria for a murder conviction and instead will be assessed against the criteria for manslaughter.

If you or someone you know if currently facing criminal murder charges, the best way to get them downgraded to manslaughter is to employ a criminal lawyer, like those at Russo Lawyers, to perfect your defence.