This article is written by Michael Shriney from the Sathyabama Institute of Science and Technology. This article covers crime of passion, examples, causes, including differences between a crime of passion and premeditated crimes, and case law.

It has been published by Rachit Garg.

Introduction 

A crime of passion is a defendant’s justification for committing a crime out of sudden hatred or heartbreak in order to avoid the requirement of premeditation. This frequently occurs in murder or attempted murder cases, when a spouse or a lover discovers his or her beloved having sexual relations with someone else and shoots or stabs one or both the coupled pair. To make this type of claim, the defendant must have committed immediately upon the outbreak of passion, with no time for thought or blood cooling. It is also referred to as the ‘Law of Texas,’ since jurors in that state are said to be tolerant of wronged lovers who seek their own punishment. The advantage of removing premeditation is that it reduces proven murder to manslaughter, which carries no death sentence and has a shorter jail term. An emotionally charged judge also might convict the impassioned defendant. The crime of passion will be described in a larger perspective as follows.

What is a crime of passion

A crime of passion, as contrasted to a premeditated or deliberate crime, is one done in the ‘heat of passion’ in reaction to provocation. Provocation can be used as a partial defence to manslaughter because, while it does not totally acquit the offender, it can reduce the severity of the offence and hence the corresponding punishment. The provocation defence accepts that some emotions might be triggered spontaneously, without providing the time to reflect on one’s behaviour. The provocation for the crime of passion must be sufficient to awaken the passions of a sensible man.

Extreme violence on the defendant, for example, or the unexpected disclosure of spousal cheating, has generally been considered enough provocation. Some countries use the criteria of severe emotional disturbance as a substitute for the heat of passion test. When a murder is ‘committed under the influence of extreme psychological or mental disturbance for which there is acceptable explanation or justification,’ it is lowered to manslaughter, according to Section 210.3 of the Model Penal Code. While this test is more liberal than the provocation test, it still falls within the scope of the reasonable person criteria.

In New York, a murder charge can be reduced to manslaughter if it is shown that the defendant behaved in a fit of anger, eliminating the element of intent necessary for murder. The concept of ‘heat of passion’ involves analysing whether the offender was ‘obscured or disturbed’ by a passion to the extent that a reasonable person would act on emotion rather than judgement. Furthermore, a defendant must have been subjected to sufficient provocation in order to act in the heat of passion. California has developed standards that include a subjective factor. In particular, the offender must not only have been sufficiently aroused into a fit of anger, but the killing must also have occurred in reaction to the provocation. This criterion denies the defence to individuals who kill for revenge or for reasons irrelevant to the provocation.

Examples

Individuals make decisions based on their emotions or reasons. When emotions take control, people may react emotionally rather than listening to the reasonable voice in their brain that tells them what they are about to do is wrong. Because people have strong emotions tied to their friends, loved ones, and family, crimes of passion are so common. There are various reasons why crimes of passion are common, including the fact that they are motivated by emotions such as fear, revenge, anger, and jealousy. Those accused of murder may use this defence to claim they were insane at the time of the crime. If a man shot his ex-wife in a furious rage because he discovered her cheating on him with another man, it would be a crime of passion is an example of crime of passion.

Background of a crime of passion

In simple terms, a crime of passion or crime passionnel derived from French refers to a violent crime, particularly homicide, in which the culprit executes the act against someone out of a strong grudge, such as sudden passion, rather than as a premeditated crime. The defence in the crime of passion challenges the mensrea element by stating that there was no malice in premeditated murder and that the crime was done in the ‘heat of passion,’ lowering the accusation from first-degree murder to manslaughter or second-degree murder. A violent pub-goer who hits another person after an argument, or a wife who finds her husband is having an affair and attacks or murders him or his lover is an example of a crime of passion.

In the United States, crime of passion accusations have generally been linked with defences of unsoundness of mind or provocation. After killing his wife’s lover, Philip Barton Key, a U.S. Congressman Daniel Sickles of New York utilised this defence for the first time in 1859. During the 1940s and 1950s, it was employed as a defence in murder trials. Historically, such defences were employed as complete defences for a variety of violent crimes, but they gradually were largely utilised as a partial defence to a murder accusation; if the court accepted temporary insanity, a murder charge may be reduced to manslaughter.

Crime passionnel was a legal defence against murder accusations in various nations, most notably France. Some of these incidents resulted in a two-year prison sentence for the killer in the nineteenth century. Paternal jurisdiction over family members was abolished once the Napoleonic Code was modified in the 1970s, decreasing the number of cases where crime passionnel could be charged. “Abrupt, impulsive, and planned acts of violence performed by individuals who have come face to face with an incident undesirable to them and who are made incapable of self-control for the time of the act,” according to the Canadian Development of Justice.

Feminists and womens’ rights organisations have fought hard in the recent decades to modify laws and social practices that allow crimes of passion against women. UN Women has urged states to review legal defences of passion and provocation, as well as other similar laws, to ensure that they do not lead to impunity in cases of violence against women, stating that such laws  These defences should be stated clearly in laws that do not include or apply to crimes of ‘honour,’ adultery, domestic assault, or murder. There are differences between crimes of passion, which are frequently impulsive and executed by and against both genders, and honour murders, which are usually intentional, well-planned, and premeditated acts whereby a person kills a female relative certainly to protect his honour. Widney Brown, Human Rights Watch’s advocacy director, stated, “murders of passion have a similar dynamic in that women are murdered by male family members and the crimes are seen as excusable or acceptable.” Some human rights activists claim that crimes of passion are punished leniently in Latin America.

Crime of passion in India

The Nanavati case of 1962 was the first in India to involve a crime of passion. Cases of a crime of passion involve ex-lovers attempting murder and suicide in the state’s capital and its neighbouring districts. It is usually done out of jealousy or anger and is committed to someone without hesitation. It is as terrible as homicide, with the culprit acting on uncontrollable anger and impulse. Kiran Bedi highlighted that crimes of passion have been committed in India and that prisons are full of women and men who have committed these crimes, such as throwing acid on a woman after being rejected to love someone with the intention to hurt her. 

In the Tandoor Murder case of 1995, a woman named Naina Sahni was murdered, chopped, and burned in a tandoor by her husband, a Congress member named Sushil Sharma, who suspected his wife of having an illegal affair. In India, this was a landmark case in which DNA evidence and a second autopsy were used to prove the accused’s guilt. The punishment was life imprisonment given by the Delhi High Court.

Madhumita Shukla, a rising poet, was killed murdered at her home in the Madhumita Shukla Murder Case of 2003. Madhumani Tripathi, wife of politician Amarmani Tripathi, who disliked Shukla’s involvement with her husband, planned the murder as a contract killing. Both the conspirator and the murderers were given life imprisonment.

In the Neeraj Grover Murder Case of 2008, the television executive was stabbed to death in Kannada actress Maria Susairaj’s home by her fiancé, and the actress was imprisoned to 3 years in jail and the fiancé was sentenced to 10 years in prison. The Mumbai Sessions Court decided that the murder of Neeraj was not planned. The court interpreted it to fall under the fourth exemption to Section 300. If a person kills someone with the purpose to kill but does so in a state of anger or in a sudden argument, he will be charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

A sudden passion is described as a state of mind caused by and growing out of a trigger with the victim; occurring in the middle of a fight and not dependent on a previous fight, according to the Indian Penal Code, 1860. This is one of the preventative factors recognised by the legal system when a murder sentence is reduced to voluntary manslaughter. The throes of passion are a usual justification for killing someone or escaping premeditation charges by claiming temporary insanity.

Section 300 of the Indian Penal Code, which defines murder, outlines four exceptions to the rule that culpable homicide is not murder. It states that culpable homicide is not murder if it is done without premeditation in the heat of passion during a sudden fight and without the offenders taking undue advantage or acting in a cruel or unusual manner, regardless of who started the first assault. The point is whether the penalty imposed on these individuals was properly investigated.

States with highest rate of crimes of passion

In India, the states with the highest rates of crime of passion in 2016 are shown below.

StateIllicit relationshipLove affairsTotal 
Uttar pradesh284398682
Bihar195187382
Tamil Nadu123180303
Madhya Pradesh168104272
Maharashtra18481265
Gujarat55133188
Andhra Pradesh1389147
Karnataka7056126
Chhattisgarh7252124
Telangana 10413117

Crimes in India from 2010-2020 statistics:

YearsPercentage of total murders
20107.3%
20117.9%
20127.4%
20137.2%
20147.2%
20159.2%
201610.4%
201710.9%
201811.2%
201911%
202010.4%

In India, the states with the highest rates of crime of passion in 2020 are shown below.

StatesNo. of murders
Uttar Pradesh462
Maharashtra 299
Madhya Pradesh298
Bihar285
Tamil Nadu249
Gujarat231

Some signs can indicate a tendency for crimes of passion

In order to gain a better understanding of the crime of passion, identifying criminals is important. This includes some signs that can indicate a tendency for the crime of passion:

  • A history of sexual abuse, assault, or conflict between the offender and the victim; 
  • The previous acts of violence that may have been quieted by the family; 
  • A background of professional and personal functioning that can remove the false impression that such violence is foreign or new to the character of the person involved; 
  • Anger and threats are a past impact as a habitual response to life’s conflicts; 
  • Overindulgence in sex, alcohol, or food; 
  • The crime of passion is committed in the ‘heat of agony,’ at random and unexpectedly.

Difference between crimes of passion and premeditated crimes

Crime of passionPremeditated crime
1.Crimes of passion are decided to commit in the heat of passion.Premeditated crimes have been committed with malicious intentions.
2.A crime of passion is not a planned and intentional crime.Premeditated crime is an intentional crime.
3.A crime of passion is committed out of heartbreak without intending to murder someone.Premeditated crime is committed out of rage and with the intent to murder someone.
4.A crime of passion is a murder committed on the spot without a second thought.Premeditated crime is a long-term planned murder.
5.A crime of passion is one committed as a result of heartbreak or betrayal against the victim.Premeditated crime is a type of crime committed while holding a grudge.
6.Crimes of passion are punished less harshly than premeditated crimes.When compared to the crime of passion, premeditated crime receives a harsher punishment.
7.It seeks to eliminate or reduce certain punishments based on valid evidence in the case.It does not eliminate or reduce specific punishments related to the case.

Judicial pronouncement

K.M. Nanavati vs. the State of Maharashtra, 1962

Facts of the case

  • In this case, K.M. Nanavati worked as the second commander of the Indian Navy’s “Mysore.” 
  • In 1949, he married Sylvia in a registry office in Portsmouth, England. They have three children from their marriage: a nine-and-a-half-year-old boy, a five-and-a-half-year-old girl, and a three-year-old boy. 
  • Because of Nanawati’s employment, the couple had to live in various areas after their marriage. They eventually relocated to Bombay. In 1956, Agniks, a mutual friend of Nanavati and Prem Ahuja, died (victim). 
  • Prem Ahuja and his sister were introduced to Nanavati by Agniks. Prem Ahuja is a 34-year-old guy who was single at the time of his death. Nanavati, regularly left Bombay on his ship, leaving his wife and children at home. 
  • Initially, Ahuja and Sylvia had a friendly connection that evolved into an illicit intimate relationship. Following Nanavati’s return from work, Sylvia changed her behaviour, becoming indifferent and unresponsive toward him. 
  • When Nanavati approaches Sylvia on April 27, 1959, she confesses being in love with and having an affair with Ahuja. He drove his family to the cinema. 
  • He left them and promised to pick them up after the show. In the heat of the agony, He drove immediately to his ship, took his semi-automatic revolver and six bullets, and kept them in his brown packet on the false pretax. 
  • He drove to Ahmednagar at night. He went to Ahuja’s office but couldn’t locate him. So he went straight to his flat and into his bedroom. Nanavati was attempting to convince Ahuja to marry his wife and take care of his children. 
  • As result, Ahuja criticised her wife, asking, “Am I married to every woman I sleep with?” Nanavati’s irritation boiled over, and he had a serious fight and argument with him.
  •  In this quarrel, his revolver got loaded and shot Ahuja dead. He confessed to the nearby police station. 
  • The Case was filed against K.M. Nanavati. He was arrested in due course under 302 Section of IPC.

Issues involved in this case

Whether Nanavati shot Ahuja in the ‘heat of an argument’ or if it was an attempted murder?

Judgement of the case

Sylvia’s statement, or any occurrence in Ahuja’s bedroom, or both, did not constitute a significant and unexpected threat. Nanavati had the burden of establishing that it was an accident rather than a culpable homicide raised in the High Court. Nanavati was found guilty of murdering Ahuja and sentenced to life in prison by the High Court. Within hours, the Governor of Bombay suspended the sentence. A few months later, the Supreme Court overruled the Governor’s decision, and Nanavati was imprisoned. Then  he was given medical parole, and a year later, he was forgiven by the new Bombay Governor and Jawaharlal Nehru’s sister Vijayalakshmi Pandit.

Talhotbond case (The chat room murderer)

Facts of the case

  • Thomas Montgomery, a 46-year-old Marinesniper who was married and the father of two children, was the victim of a crime of passion in 2005. 
  • He entered a teen chat group posing as a young, attractive Iraq-bound Marine and played the popular game ‘Pogo.’ He pretended to be an 18-year-old kid when a girl called Talhotblond on her account started instant-messaging him. He began speaking with her in the hopes of not trying to confront her, and he continued to play games with her. He begins to flirt with her, which develops into a romantic relationship. 
  • When she discloses her actual name, Jessi, a softball player in high school whose age is 18, She began to show him her pictures. Jessi was also interested in seeing his photos, so he sent her his photos from marine boot camp which was a long time ago. They began dating and exchanged gifts, phone calls, and love letters. Jessi began to call him as Tommy. he started to lose his touch with reality.  
  • His daughter became aware of the chat and affair of her father, and she alerted her mother. She enclosed a family photo with a note informing Jessi that she was talking with a 46-year-old man. Jessi’s relationship with him was broken as a result of this. Jessica had sent a 22-year-old machinist, a co-worker of Mr. Montgomery and a college student called Brian Barrett who is also to find the truth.
  • After a few days, Jessi and Brian began to develop a romance, and Montgomery became jealous and threatened Jessi with killing Brian. Despite the fact that Jessi was chatting with Brian, Montgomery was angry. Jessi, on the other hand, was having a connection with Montgomery as well. 
  • Then one day, Brian planned to meet Jessi at her house, which Montgomery was aware of. He, too, went to Jessi’s house and shot Brian dead with three shots from a military rifle in the parking lot of Jessi’s house. 
  • The police came and were aware of the fact  of a love triangle on the internet. They investigated Jessi about the incident and discovered that Jessi’s mother was the culprit behind this cyber life. 
  • The real Jessi was unaware of this cyberlife since her mother posted her own image. Mary Shieler was the name of the imposter Jessi.

Judgement of the case

Montgomery was later charged for Brian Barrett’s murder and pleaded for guilty. In return for his plea, he was sentenced to 20 years in jail. The police were unable to charge Shieler with any crime as a result of her involvement in this cyberlife.

The State v. Sushil Sharma, 1995 

Facts of the case

Naina Sahni (wife) was killed by her spouse, Sushil Sharma, in this Tandoor murder case. In 1992, Sushil Sharma, the President of the Delhi Youth Congress, was over a suspicion of his wife having an extramarital affair. The incident took place in their Delhi residence. Sharma chopped her body and placed it into a tandoor on the roof of a famous restaurant owned by his friend. When police monitoring the neighbourhood noticed smoke rising from the restaurant, they went to investigate the possible fire. Sharma was caught when the body of a 29-year-old woman was found through an investigation of the restaurant manager.

Judgement of the case

Even guilty prisoners have fundamental rights, the Delhi High Court observed, and ordered his immediate release. Sharma was sentenced to life in jail under the Code of Criminal Procedure after his case was appealed to the Supreme Court.

Conclusion

A crime of passion is a crime committed in a state of severe wrath or emotional disturbance known as ‘heat of passion.’ Something triggered the defendant, who committed the crime in the heat of passion. When a murder is committed in the heat of passion, it is done without premeditation, effectively reducing it to voluntary manslaughter. When a crime of passion happens, the defendant pleads a provocation defence in order to reduce the charge’s severity. A person who finds his / her spouse in bed with another man or woman is a simple case. In the ‘heat of passion,’ the person takes out their revolver and kills either one or both the involved parties, to death. It is an example of a crime of passion. In most areas, including California, this killing is regarded as voluntary manslaughter rather than murder.

References 

  1. https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/crime_of_passion#:~:text=In%20criminal%20law%2C%20a%20 crime,that%20was%20premeditated%20or%20deliberated 
  2. https://www.thetexastrialattorney.com/blog/is-crime-of-passion-a-legal-defense/ 
  3. https://www.lacriminaldefenseattorney.com/legal-dictionary/c/crime-of-passion/ 
  4. https://www.wise-geek.com/what-is-a-crime-of-passion.htm 
  5. https://www.bonobology.com/crime-of-passion-emotions-take-over/
  6. http://indpaedia.com/ind/index.php/Crimes_of_passion:_India 

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