Heat of Passion Legal Definition:

A sudden uncontrollable state of mind provoked by a blow or some other personal provocation.

Related Terms: Manslaughter

Serves as a defence to a charge of murder and, in some instances, a reduction of the charge from murder to manslaughter.

In Williams, Justice Carlton wrote:

"(The) Mississippi Code1 provides for a finding of manslaughter, rather than murder, in cases which involve the killing of a human being, without malice, in the heat of passion, but in a cruel and unusual manner, or by the use of a dangerous weapon, without authority of law, and not in necessary self-defense.

"Mississippi case law defines heat of passion as (a) state of violent and uncontrollable rage engendered by a blow or some other provocation given, which will reduce a homicide from the grade of murder to that of manslaughter.

"Passion or anger suddenly aroused at the time by some immediate and reasonable provocation, by words or acts of one at the time. The term includes an emotional state of mind characterized by anger, rage, hatred, furious resentment or terror."

Other examples of judicial treatment of heat of passion include this, from Justice Hill of the Court of Appeals of Kansas in State v Mendoza:

"[H]eat of passion is any intense or vehement emotional excitement which was spontaneously provoked from circumstances and that such emotional state of mind must be of such degree as would cause an ordinary person to act on impulse without reflection....

"[H]eat of passion is any intense or vehement emotional excitement prompting violent and aggressive action, such as rage, anger, hatred, furious resentment, fright, or terror, that would cause an ordinary man to act on impulse without reflection."

In Chester, South Carolina, November, 2001, 12-year old Christopher Pittman shot and killed his paternal grandparents, Joe Frank and Joy Pittman, at close range with a .410 shotgun. That night, according to the reasons for judgment of Justice Toal of the Supreme Court of South Carolina:

"... his grandparents locked him in his room and his grandfather warned him that he would paddle Appellant if he came out of the room. Later that night, Appellant came out of his room and his grandfather paddled him.

"After his grandparents went to bed, Appellant waited for ten minutes, loaded a shotgun, entered their bedroom, and shot his grandparents to death in their bed. Appellant then lit several candles and positioned them so that the house would catch on fire after he left. Appellant collected some money ($33), weapons, and his dog, took the keys to his grandparents SUV, and drove away. Early the next morning, two hunters found Appellant wandering around in the woods with a shotgun. Appellant told the hunters that he had been kidnapped by a black man who had shot his grandparents and set their home on fire."

At trial, the lawyers for the "emotionally disturbed child" argued heat of passion but the jury convicted him of both murders and the trial judge sentenced him to two concurrent terms of thirty years imprisonment. On appeal, a majority affirmed Justice Toal affirmed the conviction for the majority adding:

"[T]he period between the beating and the killings lasted more than ten minutes. The methodical execution of the shootings, combined with the lapse of time between the beating and shootings, clearly indicates that Appellant did not kill his grandparents in a sudden heat of passion."

REFERENCES:

  • Griffin v. State, 13 So. 3d 833 (Court of Appeals of Mississippi, 2009)
  • Mississippi Code, 2006, ยง97-3-35 (note 1)
  • State v. Mendoza, 207 P. 3d 1072 (2009)
  • State v. Pittman, 647 SE 2d 144 (Supreme Court of South Carolina, 2007)
  • Williams v. State, 12 So. 3d 17 (Court of Appeals of Mississippi, 2009)

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