People often use “heat of passion” as a defense for committing a violent crime. It generally involves love and/or hate.
A person who walks in on their spouse with a lover and shoots them might contend that they acted in the heat of passion. A person who finds themselves face-to-face with the person who killed a loved one in court and attacks them might claim the same.
A heat of passion defense might get someone a lesser charge than if they had planned the attack. For example, they might be charged with manslaughter instead of murder. However, it’s not going to relieve that person of culpability.
What does the heat of passion mean?
Colorado law describes a killing in the heat of passion as being “caused by a serious and highly provoking act of the intended victim, affecting the defendant sufficiently to excite an irresistible passion in a reasonable person.” Essentially, a person using the heat of passion defense is saying that they had no control over their actions at the moment in which they acted.
If there’s a “cooling-off period,” whether a few minutes or a few days, you’re no longer acting in the heat of passion. Acting after that cooling-off period means there was some premeditation. By definition, there’s no premeditation in a heat of passion crime.
Would a reasonable person act the same way, even in the heat of passion?
Proving that you acted in the heat of passion doesn’t just involve showing that you acted at the moment based on overwhelming emotion. You need to show that most people would also lose control of themselves in a similar situation, even if they wouldn’t injure or kill someone.
Some people are just more short-tempered than others. For example, many people have been fired at some point in their lives. They may feel shocked and angry. However, they don’t take out a gun and shoot their boss. A heat of passion defense in that situation would be difficult to make.
It’s important to understand what’s involved in a heat of passion defense before you use it. If it’s not appropriate, there may be other ways to get the charges reduced.