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What is a “Heat of Passion” Murder?

February 11, 2019

This type of murder is usually charged as voluntary manslaughter

What is a “Heat of Passion” Murder?

Devotees of true crime — or anyone who watches soap operas — may be familiar with the term “heat of passion.” A person may be accused of killing someone, but claims that they did not plan to kill anyone — it just happened “in the heat of passion.” But how does that work in real life? Is that an actual defense to murder charges?

In short: no. Killing someone in a fit of passion is not a defense to murder. Instead, it will likely result in a reduced charge of voluntary manslaughter. According to an experienced Riverside criminal attorney, a California prosecutor may charge the crime of voluntary manslaughter when a person kills another human:

  • during a sudden quarrel;
  • in the heat of passion; or
  • based on an honest but unreasonable belief in the need to defend oneself.

In many cases, voluntary manslaughter is offered as a reduced charge to murder. For example, if a person has been charged with murder, the prosecutor might offer a plea deal for voluntary manslaughter if he admits to the killing. Alternatively, if the case goes to trial, the jury might find that the defendant is guilty of voluntary manslaughter (a lesser offense) instead of murder.

The difference between murder and voluntary manslaughter is that murder requires that a person acts with malice aforethought. This means that a person either acts with an intent to kill or with a wanton disregard for human life. By contrast, if you kill someone because you fought with them suddenly or because you acted in the heat of passion, the presumption is that you acted without malice. For this reason, the charge is reduced from murder to voluntary manslaughter.

As a skilled Riverside criminal attorney can explain, the “heat of passion” means any violent or intense emotion that causes you to act impulsively. The key is that you do not have time to “cool” off between the event that provoked you and when the killing occurred. If you did have cooling off time, then you would be guilty of premeditated murder, rather than voluntary manslaughter.

The classic example of “heat of passion” manslaughter is when a man comes home to find a man in bed with his wife. In his anger, he lashes out and kills the other man. That might qualify as voluntary manslaughter. But if he left the house, went to the store, bought a gun, and returned home to kill the man — that would be murder, because he had time to cool off and reflect on his actions.

If you have been charged with murder, you may be able to have the charge reduced to voluntary manslaughter, depending on the facts of the case. Voluntary murder is a felony, punishable by probation, one year in county jail, or three to eleven years in state prison. By contrast, murder is punishable by either fifteen or twenty-five years to life in state prison.

The Chambers Law Firm is dedicated to helping clients who have been charged with a range of criminal offenses. Contact us today at 855-397-0210 or dchambers@clfca.com to schedule a free initial consultation with a seasoned Riverside criminal attorney.

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