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What is a Crime of Passion?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 16, 2024
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A crime of passion is committed under extreme emotional circumstances and frequently involves discovering disturbing behavior on the part of a lover or spouse, which allegedly creates a state of temporary insanity in the person committing the crime. It is both an act and a legal defense. Temporary insanity may be the more common defense than crime of passion, and when used by a defendant, part of the goal is to get sentencing reduced or eliminated on a crime that the defendant has clearly committed, like serious assault or murder. It’s not a perfect defense and it’s not acceptable everywhere. There’s some effort in some jurisdictions to eliminate this defense, with legal experts stating that murder or assault are not excusable even when someone is deeply upset. In contrast, the defense has been extremely effective in other locations, where juries seem most likely to forgive total rage or upset that might immediately follow discovery of tremendously upsetting information.

In most cases, for a defense of crime of passion to be valid, there has to be very little time elapsing between discovery and criminal act. A person who comes home to find a spouse in the act of infidelity and immediately violently attacks and/or kills the spouse and possibly the lover, might have a better chance of arguing this was a crime of passion than someone who didn’t commit the crime right away. In the latter case, the person might still argue temporary insanity, if the discovery led to a verifiably insane state. Yet this type of crime is generally fairly immediate, and little chance of proving this defense exists if any type of planning can be proven.

Planning is essential to the crime of passion defense. Anytime an act of violence is planned or thought out, the crime may be called premeditated, which tends to result in much harsher sentencing. When a defendant’s attorneys can prove that no premeditation exists, even serious and greatly disturbing crimes may receive lighter sentences. Certain sentences like life in prison or death sentences could be eliminated with successful proof that the crime was passionate in nature or a result of the person suddenly snapping. This is only the case in regions where the defense is accepted; again, most regions may evaluate cases differently when temporary insanity is claimed.

Despite the potential attractiveness from a sentencing standpoint of claiming a crime of passion defense, it isn’t always the best argument to make. It does admit the crime, which might reduce chances of acquittal. Crimes of passion are not necessarily tied to acquittal and may only reduce sentencing. Proving innocence may still be better, and it isn’t always possible to convince a jury that enough upset existed to qualify a crime as passionate in nature. Previous history, such as abusive behavior toward a spouse that is then killed, would probably make this an unsuccessful defense.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a MyLawQuestions contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By anon991711 — On Jul 12, 2015

I hope that crime of passion never dies because one day it might be me.

By anon934326 — On Feb 20, 2014

Someone please clear this up because me and my girlfriend were just discussing this and she’s positive if she ever caught me cheating, she could get away with killing me because of temporary insanity.

I laughed and tried telling her, “You can’t get away with this before you undergo an evaluation and if you’re fit mentally to stand trial at the time of the trial and only claiming insanity in those few moments when you committed the crime, then I’m sure a lot of murderers could’ve said when they murdered their victim they were insane but they’re fine now and got away with it.”

I told her you could poop in your hand and eat it in front of the judge and jury and you would still have a pretty hard time getting off scot-free unless you have a previous history of mental illness or a doctor deems you crazy. You might not get the chair or life, but if you could fake being insane for a psych evaluation, then you would be tortured by more shrink doctors for the rest of your life and you would probably end up being insane after it was all said and done anyway, so the joke is on you, babe!

I love her and she knows I’d never cheat on her, but she’s not a lawyer and neither am I so can someone find out the truth, please? She swears it’s a true story she’s basing this wild theory from, and all I do is watch “Law and Order,” so I’m not a lawyer either.

By anon232125 — On Nov 29, 2011

I think this defense depends on the specific incident. It is most effective for when the client would have been acquitted anyway because of the jury's sympathy.

Committing a crime of passion because of adultery is not as effective. However, a parent killing their child's murderer would almost certainly be let off by claiming a crime of passion.

By yumdelish — On May 29, 2011

@Penzance356 - If you were compiling crime of passion statistics I'd bet the main criteria would indeed be offenses relating to love or a committed relationship such as marriage.

The reason I say that is that a trial involving betrayal between husband and wife is something most jurors could relate to. It would be harder to claim you assaulted or killed someone who stole your best friend from you, or broke into your house.

Even though all kinds of crime or behavior may provoke a passionate and intense reaction it would be a challenge to justify such an extreme response.

By Penzance356 — On May 26, 2011

I thought that murder was the charge when there was no pre meditation. To be honest I would say that anyone who snaps and takes a life suddenly must be acting on some kind of passionate feeling.

It may not be due to jealousy linked to romantic affairs, but the intensity of emotion is what is key, right?

By Bakersdozen — On May 24, 2011

I'm glad that France revised their crime of passion laws to close this loophole as a stand alone motive in court. It's quite possibly understandable, but could easily be misused by a cunning spouse who suspected their partner was cheating.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a MyLawQuestions contributor, Tricia...
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