How Texas Crime of Passion Laws Can Affect a Murder Case
Learn about how crimes involving “sudden passion” are handled in Texas
You may have heard of the term “a crime of passion,” but aren’t sure what that means in a legal sense.
In truth, it means a great deal when it comes to criminal punishments. Indeed, under Texas law, the distinction of a murder being a crime of passion can be extremely important.
Let’s explore what that means from a legal perspective.
What is a ‘crime of passion’?
First, it’s important to understand what a crime of passion actually is.
Basically, this means that a crime was committed in the heat of the moment, when a person suddenly reacted to emotions or passion and didn’t plan to commit the crime.
By contrast, many crimes are criminal acts resulting from planning or prior intent. They are deliberate acts that aren’t motivated by a moment’s passion, but rather are carried out after previous decisions or “premeditation.”
Crime of passion vs. premeditated crimes
The nature of a crime in Texas often derives from the intent or motive of the offender. If the intent to commit the crime was premeditated and planned deliberately, that’s considered a worse offense than a crime of passion, which wasn’t planned or premeditated, but rather occurred on the spur of the moment, perhaps in a fit of jealousy, rage or terror.
Examples of crimes committed in the “heat of passion” (as opposed to premeditated crimes) include:
- Shooting or attacking spouse or partner when caught cheating
- Assaulting a partner out of anger for being broken up with
- Retaliation for rape and abuse
Historically, considering an offense a crime of passion has been applied to different crimes, but largely to violent offenses. It was first used in a Missouri congressman’s defense when he was accused of killing his wife’s lover in 1859. In more recent times, virtually the only crimes to be deemed crimes of passion are murders.
Crime of passion laws in Texas
Texas crime of passion laws actually refer to such acts as being acts of “sudden passion.”
Texas Penal Code Chapter 19, concerning criminal homicide, holds that such “sudden passion” means “passion directly caused by and arising out of provocation by the individual killed or another acting with the person killed which passion arises at the time of the offense and is not solely the result of former provocation.”
The law also holds that such passion must be due to “adequate cause.” This means a “cause that would commonly produce a degree of anger, rage, resentment, or terror in a person of ordinary temper, sufficient to render the mind incapable of cool reflection.”
Texas murder laws state further that, at the punishment stage of a trial, “the defendant may raise the issue as to whether he caused the death under the immediate influence of sudden passion arising from an adequate cause. If the defendant proves the issue in the affirmative by a preponderance of the evidence, the offense is a felony of the second degree.” (That is the nature of a manslaughter charge, when a person recklessly causes another person’s death.)
On the other hand, if a murder is planned or premeditated, such an offense in Texas is a far worse crime, which also is known as a felony of the first degree.
Texas murder punishments
Punishment for a murder that’s premeditated and is a first degree felony includes a fine of up to $10,000 and prison time between 5 and 99 years.
But when murder was a crime of passion, or a felony of the second degree, punishment includes the same fine of up to $10,000 but prison time is limited to as little as 2 years and a maximium of 20 years.
As you can see, the distinction of murder being a crime of passion rather than being planned or premeditated can mean a far lesser prison sentence. Instead of the maximum 99 years in prison for premedidated murder, the punishment for murder as a crime of passion can be as low as 2 years in prison.
San Antonio grants leniency in “sudden passion” case
In fact, the minimum 2 years in prison can be gained, as it was by a defendant who was convicted in a notorious Texas case in 2016.
As Houston’s KHOU-11 reported, Frances Hall was found guilty and was convicted of murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon in the road rage death of her husband, Bill Hall, on rural Loop 1604 in 2013.
Tormented by her husband’s affair with another woman, who taunted her about it, Frances Hall reportedly used her Escalade SUV to strike her husband’s Harley-Davidson motorcycle. He was ejected from the vehicle and died at the scene.
While convicting her on both counts, a San Antonio jury unanimously decided in the trial’s punishment phase that Frances Hall had committed the crime with “sudden passion.” The jury unanimously voted to give her the minimum 2-year sentence for both charges, to be served concurrently, along with a $10,000 fine for both charges, for a total of $20,000.
If the crime had been considered premeditated and not a crime of passion, the punishment could have been 99 years in prison on the murder charge alone. In other words, in this case, the heat of passion defense helped turn a life-sentence to a 2-year prison sentence.
‘Sudden passion’ concerns punishment, NOT guilt or innocence
Keep in mind that sudden passion is not a defense against a murder charge and cannot be raised in the guilt/innocence phase of the trial. Thus, the distinction of a murder being a crime of sudden passion does not affect whether a person is found guilty or innocent of murder.
However, the heat of passion defense can be raised in the punishment phase of the trial if the defendant is found guilty. Then, it can greatly affect the extent of punishment that is handed down for the crime of murder, as you can see in the case of Frances Hall.
Hire an experienced murder defense lawyer
If you or a family member faces a murder charge in Texas, consult an experienced murder defense lawyer about your case. Depending on the circumstances of the crime, your defense attorney may be able to get the charge reduced or dropped. And if the charge stands, he or she can fight for your rights at trial.
If you’re convicted, your murder defense lawyer can fight for a far less severe sentence than for premeditated murder by asserting sudden passion in your case. Another murder defense involving lesser penalties is to assert temporary insanity.