Crimes of Passion in Texas
Many people may have heard the phrase “crime of passion” but they may be unsure of its exact definition or its use in legal cases. Under Texas law, the term crime of passion refers to a specific type of criminal action that occurs under legally defined circumstances. This term has strong implications in a legal case, especially when it comes to the sentencing and punishment phase. In most cases, a person who is convicted of a crime of passion may receive a less harsh sentence than a person who is convicted of a planned, calculated offense.
In order to better understand this crime, it is helpful to compare it to other offenses.
Crimes of Passion vs Premeditated Crimes
In order to convict someone of a crime under Texas law, it is necessary in most cases to prove the motive of the defendant. This is important because most Texas crime definitions have language that refers to the intent or motive of the person charged with the offense.
For example, many Texas crime definitions refer to actions that are committed “knowingly”, “intentionally” or recklessly. This is because a person who commits a criminal offense with intent and on purpose while fully understanding the nature of their actions is perceived to be a more serious violator of the law and public safety.
In most cases, a person who commits a crime of passion is breaking the law after reacting to a situation. They are caught up in the emotion, or “passion”, of the moment and they commit the crime without planning beforehand or previous intent.
The classic scenario of a crime of passion plays out like this: a person comes home and catches their spouse in the midst of being unfaithful. In a rage, the cheated spouse lashes out and attacks their husband or wife. Before they realize what they have done, they cause serious or even fatal injuries to their spouse.
They may be judged as guilty of a crime of passion. This is because, before they arrived home, they had no bad intentions and they had not planned to commit any crimes. Although this scenario involves a marital affair, the term “passion” does not only apply to people who are romantically involved. It simply refers to overpowering emotions that lead a person to break the law.
As a comparison, a premeditated crime involves planning and an intentional decision to commit a crime. Premeditated offenses are considered much more serious than crimes of passion.
A Historical Legal Term
There is a long history of the use of a “crime of passion” defense in America. This defense was used for the first time in 1859 when a congressman used it to explain his actions after he was charged with the murder of his wife’s lover.
Although it was historically used as a defense for many types of crimes, it is usually applied to murder cases in the modern era.
For example, Chapter 19 of the Texas Penal Code refers to a murder committed in the influence of sudden passion after an adequate cause.
Adequate cause is defined as a cause that can reasonably be expected to create:
If an adequate cause creates these feeling in a reasonably calm person, that person may be rendered temporarily incapable of thinking clearly or rationally. This may cause a person to act under the influence of sudden passion. The Penal Code defines a sudden passion as a state of mind:
- Caused by and arising out of a provocation with the victim
- Occurring in the midst of a conflict and not based on a previous conflict
For example, imagine that a person gets into a fight at a bar with a stranger. They become enraged after being insulted and they attack the person who insulted them. As a result, the person being assaulted suffers a head injury and dies.
In Texas murder cases, a person charged with murder is allowed to raise the issue of sudden passion and adequate cause as a defense. If this defense is successful, the person may have their charge reduced to second degree felony murder, rather than first degree murder.
A person who is facing murder charges can consult with an attorney to discuss and plan defense options. An attorney may be able to submit evidence which shows that the defendant acted in a sudden passion after being provoked. If this is successful, the charges may be reduced, leading to a less severe sentence.