Crime of Passion

The term “crime of passion” refers to a criminal act that a person commits out of heartbreak or anger. For example, a crime of passion would be if a person shot his ex-wife in a jealous rage because he caught her cheating on him with another man. This is the most common example of a crime of passion because the defense argues that the shooter did not have time to “cool off” before firing the gun. To explore this concept, consider the following crime of passion definition.

Definition of Crime of Passion

Noun

  1. A defense used by an individual who committed a crime as the direct result of an event triggering heartbreak or rage.

Origin

1125–1175         Medieval Latin (passiōn)

What is a Crime of Passion?

A crime of passion is a crime committed by someone so quickly that he doesn’t have time to “cool down” and stop himself. In other words, a crime of passion is exactly that: it is a crime that someone commits while in a passionate state. That passion can either be out of heartbreak, like if someone breaks up with another person, or out of rage. In fact, crimes of passion statistics show that, out of all the homicides committed in a given year, most offenders know their victims personally.

Difference Between a Crime of Passion and Premeditated Crime

In Texas, there exists a clear difference between a crime of passion and premeditated crime. Texas’ murder statute defines a crime of passion as:

“…passion directly caused by and arising out of provocation by the individual killed or another acting with the person killed which passion arises at the time of the offense and is not solely the result of former provocation.”

In other words, if a man comes home to discover his wife cheating on him with another man, and he then shoots and kills them both, his actions would qualify as a crime of passion under Texas law.

The main difference between a crime of passion and premeditated crime is that the crime must be directly related to, and immediately follow, the event that triggered the offender into committing the crime. Using the above example of a crime of passion, if the man thought about killing his wife for a week after the incident, then killed her, this does not meet the crime of passion meaning. He has plenty of time to cool off and instead “premeditated” the crime by planning it for an entire week prior to her murder.

Another difference between a crime of passion and premeditated crime is that the victims must be parties to the triggering event. For instance, if the man in the above example left the house and promptly killed another woman because she looked like his wife, this would not qualify as a crime of passion. This victim had nothing at all to do with the event in question and was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Crime of Passion Examples

Examples of crime of passion are everywhere. Individuals make decisions either based on reason or emotions. When emotions take over, individuals may act on impulse and ignore the rational voice in their head that is telling them what they are about to do is wrong. Because individuals tend to feel the strongest emotions for their friends and loved ones, this is why crimes of passion examples are so common.

There are several reasons why crimes of passion are prevalent, as being rooted in emotions, like fear, revenge, anger, and jealousy. People may not even realize they are feeling these things consciously when they commit the crime. Those charged with murder may invoke this specific defense, and claim they were insane at the time of the incident. However, it isn’t like it is on TV – an insanity defense is perhaps the most difficult defense to successfully prove.

Crime of Passion Statistics

Crime of passion statistics prove that this type of crime is more common than people may think. For instance, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, spouses were responsible for 30 percent of all murdered females. Ex-spouses were responsible for nearly 20 fewer. Less than 10 percent of female victims were the victims of crimes carried out by strangers, proving that crimes committed in passion comprise most of the total homicides out there. Needless to say, crime of passion statistics can be pretty unsettling.

Crime of Passion Example Involving a Microbiologist

An example of a crime passion occurred in 2006 in the matter of Bond v. United States. Here, microbiologist Carol Anne Bond learned that her best friend, Myrlinda Haynes, was with child … and that Carol’s husband was the father. Bond then tried to poison Haynes by obtaining highly toxic chemicals from her company and putting them on Haynes’ doorknobs, mailbox, and car door handles.

The only thing that happened to Haynes was a mildly burned thumb. Suspicious, Haynes reached out to a federal investigator, who discovered that Bond was responsible. The authorities then charged Bond with several violations of the Chemical Weapons Act (CWA).

Trial

At trial, Bond asked the Court to dismiss the case, arguing that the Constitution barred Congress from enforcing the CWA, as this would be a violation of Bond’s Tenth Amendment rights. The district court denied Bond’s request, and she pled guilty under the understanding that she would be able to appeal the decision with regard to the CWA’s validity. The court sentenced her to six years in jail.

Appeal and U.S. Supreme Court

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that Bond did not have the right to appeal her decision. However, when the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, the Court reversed the lower court and remanded the case back to the Third Circuit to make a decision based on the merits of the case.

On remand, the Third Circuit confirmed Bond’s conviction. She then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court again, asking the Court to either overrule the lower court’s decision, or find that her actions did not rise to the level of a federal investigation. This time, the Court agreed with Bond and ruled that Congress did not have the jurisdiction to rule on this case, as Bond did not, in their opinion, attempt to use chemical warfare as defined by law.

Said the Court in its Decision:

“A fair reading of section 229 must recognize the duty of ‘federal courts to be certain of Congress’s intent before finding that federal law overrides’ the ‘usual constitutional balance of federal and state powers…’ This principle applies to federal laws that punish local criminal activity, which has traditionally been the responsibility of the States. This Court’s precedents have referred to basic principles of federalism in the Constitution to resolve ambiguity in federal statutes.

Here, the ambiguity in the statute derives from the improbably broad reach of the key statutory definition, given the term—’chemical weapon’—that is being defined, the deeply serious consequences of adopting such a boundless reading, and the lack of any apparent need to do so in light of the context from which the statute arose—a treaty about chemical warfare and terrorism, not about local assaults. Thus, the Court can reasonably insist on a clear indication that Congress intended to reach purely local crimes before interpreting section 229’s expansive language in a way that intrudes on the States’ police power.

No such clear indication is found in section 229. An ordinary speaker would not describe Bond’s feud-driven act of spreading irritating chemicals as involving a ‘chemical weapon.’ And the chemicals at issue here bear little resemblance to those whose prohibition was the object of an international Convention. Where the breadth of a statutory definition creates ambiguity, it is appropriate to look to the ordinary meaning of the term being defined (here, ‘chemical weapon’) in settling on a fair reading of the statute.”

[Citations omitted]

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Jurisdiction – The legal authority to hear legal cases and make judgments; the geographical region of authority to enforce justice.
  • Statute – A written law passed by a legislature on the state or federal level.

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