Chances are you’ve heard the term “crime of passion” on your favorite cable TV thrillers, crime shows, or in various paperback novels, but is the crime of passion a legal defense in reality? In the state of Texas, the crime of passion does not stand as a legal defense however crimes of sudden passion are recognized as a legal defense — although both can certainly make a difference in the outcomes of a manslaughter or murder case.

Not sure what the difference is between the crime of passion vs. sudden passion? Wondering if you can go to jail for crimes of passion? In this article, the experienced murder defense attorneys from Thiessen Law Firm are here to answer these questions.

Crime of passion vs. sudden passion

Crimes of passion, in the sense that many people understand them — that being that murder committed on the account of passion or love can act as a defense for total legal pardoning — has not been recognized by Texas courts, or any courts in the US, for quite some time. Crimes of passion do not actually exist in the legal world and acquittal is no more common when dealing with a crime of passion than it is in a case under normal circumstances. 

That said, Texas does, however, consider “sudden passion” as an extenuating circumstance or mitigating factor, so it can serve as a legal defense that may help lessen the accused’s charge or sentence.

“Sudden passion” is defined by Texas Penal Code Ch 19 as “passion directly caused by and arising out of provocation by the individual killed or another acting with the person killed whose passion arises at the time of the offense and is not solely the result of former provocation.”

This legal concept essentially means that the act of murder was committed as a sudden reaction to emotions (or passion) rather than from the emotions themselves. If emotions or passions seem to be less substantial than the usual facts in which the court traffics, you would be right: the real concern of the court is whether or not the act of murder was premeditated and whether you had adequate cause to commit the crime.

What is an adequate cause?

Another term that the Texas Penal Code uses to qualify crimes of passion is “adequate cause”. “Adequate cause” is defined as any cause that would “commonly produce a degree of anger, rage, resentment, or terror in a person of ordinary temper, sufficient to render the mind incapable of cool reflection.” In this case, a person of ordinary temper, often referred to legally as a “reasonable person”, would be moved to action by other actions such as the discovery of adultery or assault, and not just words.

“Adequate cause” can also be referred to as “sufficient provocation”. “Sufficient provocation”, much like in a self-defense murder charge, does not mean that the murder is permissible but it can help lessen your charges or punishments similarly to the sudden passion defense.

What is considered a crime of passion in Texas?

What type of crime is the crime of passion? Crimes of passion are generally invoked when death is involved, so the charges are usually either manslaughter or murder charge, but they can also apply to capital murder charges, intoxication manslaughter, and criminally negligent homicide in Texas.

Texas Penal Code Chapter 19 stipulates that “at the punishment stage of a trial, the defendant may raise the issue as to whether he caused the death under the immediate influence of sudden passion arising from an adequate cause” and that “if the defendant proves the issue in the affirmative by a preponderance of the evidence, the offense is a felony of the second degree.” 

In other words, even if “sudden passion” and “sufficient provocation” are deployed as intended, Texas courts are notoriously tough on offenses against the person. But a felony in the second degree is a lot better than life in prison for a capital murder charge in Texas.

Continue reading: Capital Murder vs. Murder 

What is the sentencing for a crime of passion?

Can you go to jail for the crime of passion? The quick answer is yes. Seeking to invoke “sudden passion” concerns the level of punishment for a crime, not guilt or innocence. If the jury or judge is considering whether “sudden passion” applies to the case, it is a consideration not of acquittal, but of a lesser sentence. Premeditation can also throw out “sudden passion” as a legal defense, even if the crime was indeed committed in the heat of passion.

For example, imagine a man goes away for a business retreat, suspecting that his partner might be having an affair in their home during his time away. He is fully aware that he might catch his partner cheating if he were to come home early, so he plans to do just that in hopes of catching her in the act. He brings a weapon, hides his car up the block, enters the house quietly, tiptoes up the stairs, and catches his spouse in bed with someone else. In this scenario, no matter the amount of passion involved, the premeditation of inflicting some sort of harm, whether it be assault or murder, would make it difficult to gain consideration for “sudden passion”.

With a few adjustments, this same scenario could be a convincing argument for “sudden passion”. Adequate cause certainly exists, but premeditation is what throws this out as a legal defense. The argument for “sudden passion” would be much stronger if the car was not hidden and the weapon had lain dormant in a dresser drawer instead of wrapped in a willing and waiting hand inside of a coat pocket.   

Is someone you love facing murder or manslaughter charges? Don’t wait to call Thiessen Law Firm.

Is the crime of passion a legal defense? As previously mentioned, the crime of passion is not a legal defense in Texas but sudden passion is. With the right representation, using sudden passion as a defense could lessen a conviction and/or help your case. The best thing you can do for yourself or a loved one facing these serious charges is to consult an experienced murder defense lawyer like Mark Thiessen before talking to anyone else.

Mark Thiessen is an aggressive trial lawyer who is triple Board Certified in Criminal Law, DUI Defense, and DUI Law. With experience winning complex cases, including intoxication manslaughter, he is ready to fight to protect your rights, your reputation, and your future.

Call 713-864-9000 for the best murder defense attorney Harris County has to offer, or fill out an online form for a free and confidential case review.

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Mark Thiessen is an aggressive trial lawyer best known for his devotion to justice for his clients and high rank as a DWI Super Lawyer in Texas.