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What Is 'Heat of Passion'?

By Andrew Lu | Last updated on

It's Valentine's Day, so what better time to talk about "heat of passion"? Contrary to popular belief, however, "heat of passion" is technically not a defense to a homicide.

Love can make people do stupid things. But sometimes those feelings of love (or hate) may be so passionate that you're driven to a different state of mind. In some cases, an agitated state of mind can overcome the ability of a reasonable person to control his actions.

So if an individual is riled up in the "heat of passion" and kills someone, the killer won't get off scot-free. Instead, he may be able to get a murder charge reduced to manslaughter.

How 'Heat of Passion' Works

When "heat of passion" is cited in a homicide case, an individual is essentially admitting that he killed someone. That individual is just arguing that he had no control over his emotions.

For example, let's say that a husband walks in on his wife having an affair with a neighbor. The husband may have come home in a good mood and carrying flowers for the wife, especially if it's Valentine's Day. But in the "heat of the moment," seeing his wife and neighbor in bed together may be too much; the betrayal may cause the husband to kill his neighbor in a fit of rage.

If the husband is charged with murder, he may try to argue for a reduction to manslaughter -- the argument being that his actions were neither premeditated nor planned. Instead, he was acting in the "heat of the moment" and temporarily had no control over his actions.

Proving 'Heat of Passion'

The "heat of passion" explanation can be used in a first- or second- degree murder prosecution, because these crimes typically require premeditation. But when you are acting in the "heat of passion," by definition you are not acting with any premeditation.

To prove that, however, an individual will have to show facts that would drive most people to lose complete control over themselves. So if you are simply hot-headed, losing your temper may not be a viable explanation. Instead, you may have to show facts that would drive a person to kill.

In addition, you would have to show that you were truly acting in the "heat of the moment." So if you cool off for a period of time and then commit the killing, the "heat of passion" argument generally will not work.

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