Crimes of Passion: Murder or Manslaughter?

When someone takes the life of another individual, it is the violent crime of homicide by definition but either murder or manslaughter by circumstance. When there appears to be malicious intent and planning leading up to the homicidal act, the charges will call it murder. When there appears to be intent that is not malicious and no forward-thinking beforehand, the charges will be for voluntary manslaughter, the most common “crime of passion” in the California State criminal justice system.

What Makes a Crime Passionate?

As the unofficial name of voluntary manslaughter implies, a crime of passion is one that erupts suddenly due to uncontrolled emotions, or during the heat of the moment. As the media tends to portray, a crime of passion often occurs when a lover feels betrayed, feelings of anger and jealousy sparking unexpected violence. Without any plotting and without any lasting malice, a quarrel becomes deadly.

In a voluntary manslaughter case, the defense will need to show that the accused had been reasonably provoked by the victim, causing them to lose control of their actions and lose sight of the consequences. Provocation generally must go beyond taunting, threats, and insults but instead involve something that would enrage a reasonable person, such as having an affair with their spouse or malevolently destroying their highly valued property.

They must also have acted immediately upon full provocation. The law mandates that if there was a “cooling period” between a previous nonphysical altercation and the act of homicide that followed, the charge will be murder. While this “cooling period” is somewhat vague by legal standards, it can be assumed that if the established timeline shows that the aggressor had time to separate themselves from the victim, premeditation has occurred, warranting a murder charge.

Defenses to Voluntary Manslaughter Charges

While claiming that a homicidal act was a crime of passion is a defense against murder charges, it is important for the defendant to also defend themselves against the consequences of voluntary manslaughter. Defenses may include claiming self-defense or the defense of another, even if it can be shown that there was never a threat of death or serious injury from the victim, or unintentionally becoming intoxicated to the point of complete loss of self-control. With the right defense strategy, it may be possible for the defendant to both admit that they killed another person during a crime of passion and have their charges dropped or reduced.

If you would like to learn more about crimes of passion defenses for your own homicide case in Southern California, contact our Riverside County criminal defense lawyer from Hanson, Gorian, Bradford & Hanich. We have more than 50 years of combined legal experience and offer free case evaluations. Schedule yours today.


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