Select your state

Criminal charges

defenses—heat of passion

Heat of passion or sudden passion is any intense, emotional excitement that prompts violent and aggressive action, such as rage, anger, hatred, furious resentment, fright, or terror that would cause an ordinary person to act on impulse and without reflection. When a crime such as murder is committed in the heat of passion and in response to a provocation—as opposed to being premeditated or deliberated—the provocation may serve as a partial defense to the crime by eliminating the premeditation element of a murder charge (also known as malice or malice aforethought), reducing the charge to manslaughter, for example.

The classic example of heat of passion provocation is when a spouse or lover finds his or her partner in an intimate place or sexual act with another person and shoots, stabs, or otherwise kills or attempts to kill one or both of them. The heat of passion defense is only available when the defendant reacts immediately to the provocation and without cooling off. If, for example, the defendant leaves and returns 30 minutes later to kill the cheating spouse, the heat of passion defense may not be available.

And in some states the heat of passion defense may also apply when the defendant had the honest but unreasonable belief he was confronted with deadly force, and used deadly force to defend himself.

Laws regarding the availability of the heat of passion defense vary from state to state. Some state laws downgrade a murder charge to manslaughter when the crime was committed under the influence of extreme mental or emotional disturbance for which there is reasonable explanation or excuse. These laws are generally located in a state’s statutes—often in the penal or criminal code.

And even when a partial defense of heat of passion or extreme mental or emotional disturbance may be available to a defendant, a conviction for manslaughter can carry a lengthy prison term and other serious consequences.

In Texas, the concept of 'heat of passion' or 'sudden passion' is recognized as a mitigating circumstance in cases of murder. If a defendant can successfully demonstrate that they acted in the heat of passion, provoked by circumstances that would cause an ordinary person to become emotionally or mentally disturbed, the charge may be reduced from murder to manslaughter. Texas Penal Code Section 19.02(d) specifically allows for a finding of 'sudden passion' during the guilt phase of a trial, which can result in a conviction for the lesser offense of second-degree manslaughter rather than first-degree murder. However, for the defense to be valid, the reaction must be almost immediate; there must not be a 'cooling off' period in which the defendant had time to reflect on their actions. If there is a significant delay between the provocation and the act of killing, the defense is less likely to be accepted. Additionally, the belief that one is responding to deadly force, even if it turns out to be unreasonable, can also be considered under this defense in some cases. It's important to note that even if a defendant is convicted of manslaughter instead of murder, they still face serious penalties, including a lengthy prison sentence.

Legal articles related to this topic