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What is a ‘Crime of Passion’?

Posted on December 15, 2021 in

The term “crime of passion” is something that individuals likely hear fairly often on television shows or in movies. However, this phrase, or rather the idea of a crime committed during certain circumstances, does have a legal meaning.

In criminal law, a crime passion is committed “in the moment of passion” in response to some sort of provocation. This is different from crimes that occur that are premeditated or deliberated. Here, we want to more thoroughly explain crimes of passion.

Understanding Crimes of Passion

When we examine the definition of the term “crime of passion” from the Legal Information Institute from Cornell Law, we see that this can be used as a defense for a person charged with killing other individuals. If a person charged with murder or manslaughter says that they were provoked and that they reacted unexpectedly and without premeditation, this could play a role as their case proceeds. 

In Texas, the legal framework acknowledges and integrates the notion of “sudden passion” into its penal code. When an individual commits an offense while influenced by sudden passion stemming from a justifiable cause, their crime may be mitigated from a first-degree felony, such as murder, to a second-degree felony. Specifically, Texas Penal Code Chapter 19 says that, concerning homicide, sudden passion means “passion directly caused by and arising out of provocation by the individual killed or another acting with the person killed which passion arises at the time of the offense and is not solely the result of former provocation.”

The provocation defense brought on by a “crime of passion” argument is complex. In these situations, it has to be shown that the passions of a “reasonable person” would be inflamed as a result of the incident. One of the most common examples of a crime of passion killing revolves around a defendant suddenly discovering that their spouse or significant other had been unfaithful (i.e. walking in on their spouse actively cheating with another individual).

Another example of a crime of passion would be a defendant suffering from an extreme assault and then reacting and killing the other individual.

How Can a Crime of Passion Affect a Murder Charge?

It is important to understand that just because something may be considered a “crime of passion” does not mean that prosecutors or law enforcement officials will not bring murder or manslaughter charges against an individual. If someone has been killed, there will almost always be criminal charges involved.

A sudden passion cannot be used as a defense in a murder or manslaughter case, and it will not be raised when working to determine a person’s guilt or innocence in a trial. In other words, just because a “crime of passion” may have occurred, this will not affect whether or not a person is found innocent or guilty of the killing.

However, the crime of passion defenses can be raised during the punishment phase of a trial if a person is eventually found guilty. At this point, this can significantly affect the punishment handed down for the crime.

Working With a Skilled Criminal Defense Attorney

If you or somebody you love has been charged with murder or manslaughter in Texas, you need to work with a skilled attorney immediately. A criminal defense lawyer will use their resources to conduct a complete investigation into the case. They will not simply rely on the evidence gathered by law enforcement officials and prosecutors. An attorney will work vigorously on your behalf when it comes to communication and potential negotiations with prosecutors. Importantly, if a crime of passion is a factor in the case, an attorney will make sure that this is completely understood during the punishment phase of the trial if you are found guilty.