In criminal law, a crime of passion is a crime committed in the "heat of passion" in response to provocation, as opposed to one that was premeditated or deliberated. Provocation serves as a partial defense to manslaughter because while it does not completely excuse the defendant of the killing, it can downgrade the degree of the crime, and therefore the associated punishment. The provocation defense serves to recognize that some reactions can be provoked spontaneously, without giving one the opportunity to reflect on his or her actions.
The provocation behind a crime of passion must be that which is calculated to inflame the passions of a reasonable person. For example, extreme assault on the defendant or sudden discovery of spousal adultery have traditionally been regarded as sufficient provocation, while mere words have not.
As an alternative to the heat of passion standard, some jurisdictions apply the standard of extreme emotional disturbance. The Model Penal Code (section 210.3) states that a murder is downgraded to manslaughter when it was "committed under the influence of extreme mental or emotional disturbance for which there is reasonable explanation or excuse." It is worth noting that while this standard is more flexible than the provocation standard, it still falls under a reasonable person standard.
In New York, the offense of murder can be downgraded to manslaughter if it was found that the defendant acted upon heat of passion, which negates the element of malice required for murder. "Heat of passion" requires an inquiry as to whether the defendant was "obscured or disturbed" by passion that would cause a reasonable person to act from passion rather than judgement. Furthermore, for a defendant to have acted in the heat of passion, he or she must have been succumbed to adequate provocation.
California has articulated their standard to include a subjective aspect. Specifically, the defendant must not only have been adequately provoked into the heat of passion, but the resulting killing must have been done in response to the provocation. As a result, this standard denies the defense to those who kill out of revenge or a reason unrelated to the provocation.
[Last updated in June of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]