Duhaime's Law Dictionary


Sudden Heat Definition:

Anger or terror sufficient to obscure the reason of an ordinary person, preventing deliberation.

Related Terms: Mutual Combat, Sudden Fight, Provocation

Sudden heat, when it occurs, does not excuse murder but will, if the allegations are convincing beyond a reasonable doubt to a judge or jury, mitigate a charge of murder to the lesser offence of  manslaughter

In Brown v State, Douglas Brown tried to convince that his cold blooded murder of another drug dealer was done in the heat of the moment; his lawyer invoking the sudden heat doctrine. Apparently, just before he shot the deceased in the face at point blank range, the defendant had been rude to him!

sudden heat quote boxIn upholding the trial court's conviction for murder, Justice Sullivan of the Supreme Court of Indiana wrote:

"We have already determined that voluntary manslaughter is a lesser included offense of murder... (S)udden heat distinguishes voluntary manslaughter from murder....

"(S)udden heat is characterized as anger, rage, resentment, or terror sufficient to obscure the reason of an ordinary person, preventing deliberation and premeditation, excluding malice, and rendering a person incapable of cool reflection."

Those were not exactly the same words used by Justice Barteau of the Court of Appeals of Indiana in Morrison v State some nine years earlier, but very instructive nonetheless:

"Sudden heat is not an element of voluntary manslaughter, but rather a mitigating factor in conduct that would otherwise be murder....

"Sudden heat is anger, rage, resentment, or terror sufficient to obscure the reason of an ordinary man; it prevents deliberation and premeditation, excludes malice, and renders a person incapable of cool reflection. Tersely, sudden heat is sufficient provocation to induce such passion to render the defendant incapable of cool reflection.... Questions of sudden heat and the adequacy of provocation are judged by an objective, ordinary man standard.

"Any appreciable evidence of sudden heat justifies the giving of an instruction on voluntary manslaughter. But, as a matter of law, words alone cannot generate sudden heat. And, evidence that the defendant was angry does not, standing alone, show sudden heat; there must be evidence that the victim provoked the defendant."

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