The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with Western culture and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (March 2019)
A crime of passion (French: crime passionnel), in popular usage, refers to a violent crime, especially homicide, in which the perpetrator commits the act against someone because of sudden strong impulse such as sudden rage rather than as a premeditated crime.
The "crime of passion" defense challenges the mens rea element by suggesting that there was no malice aforethought, and instead the crime was committed in the "heat of passion". In some jurisdictions, a successful "crime of passion" defense may result in a conviction for manslaughter or second degree murder instead of first degree murder, because a defendant cannot ordinarily be convicted of first degree murder unless the crime was premeditated. A classic example of a crime of passion involves a spouse who, upon finding his or her partner in bed with another, kills the romantic interloper.
Additionally, the gay panic defense and or "trans panic" defenses can from time to time fall under the label of a "crime of passion", as was the defense of Michael Magidson and José Merel after they were put to trial after murdering trans woman Gwen Araujo.
In the United States, claims of "crimes of passion" have been traditionally associated with the defenses of temporary insanity or provocation. This defense was first used by U.S. Congressman Daniel Sickles of New York in 1859; after he had killed his wife's lover, Philip Barton Key II. It was used as a defense in murder cases during the 1940s and 1950s. Historically, such defenses were used as complete defenses for various violent crimes, but gradually they became used primarily as a partial defense to a charge of murder; if the court accepts temporary insanity, a murder charge may be reduced to manslaughter.
In some countries, notably France, crime passionnel (or crime of passion) was a valid defense to murder charges. During the 19th century, some such cases resulted in a custodial sentence for the murderer of two years. After the Napoleonic code was updated in the 1970s, paternal authority over the members of the family was ended, thus reducing the occasions for which crime passionnel could be claimed. The Canadian Department of Justice has described crimes of passion as "abrupt, impulsive, and unpremeditated acts of violence committed by persons, who have come face to face with an incident unacceptable to them, and who are rendered incapable of self-control for the duration of the act."[full citation needed]
In recent decades, feminists and women's rights organizations have worked to change laws and social norms which tolerate crimes of passion against women. UN Women has urged states to review legal defenses of passion and provocation, and other similar laws, to ensure that such laws do not lead to impunity in regard to violence against women, stating that "laws should clearly state that these defenses do not include or apply to crimes of "honour", adultery, or domestic assault or murder."
There are differences between crimes of passion (which are generally impulsive and committed by and against both genders) and honour killings, as "while crimes of passion may be seen as somewhat premeditated to a certain extent, honour killings are usually deliberate, well planned and premeditated acts when a person kills a female relative ostensibly to uphold his honour." However, Widney Brown, advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, argued that "crimes of passion have a similar dynamic in that the women are killed by male family members and the crimes are perceived as excusable or understandable". Some human rights advocates say that the crimes of passion in Latin America are treated leniently.
The Council of Europe Recommendation Rec(2002)5 of the Committee of Ministers to member states on the protection of women against violence states that member states should "preclude adultery as an excuse for violence within the family".
In Australia, as in other common law jurisdictions, crimes of passion have traditionally been subjected to the partial defense of provocation, which converts what would have been murder into manslaughter. In recent years, the defense of provocation has come under increased criticism, and, as a result, legal changes have abolished or restricted its application: in 2003, Tasmania became the first state to abolish the partial defense of provocation; the next state to abolish it was Victoria, in 2005; followed by Western Australia in 2008. ACT and Northern Territory have amended the laws to exclude non-violent homosexual sexual advances, in 2004 and 2006, respectively. In Queensland the partial defense of provocation in section 304(1) of the Criminal Code was amended in 2011, in order to "reduce the scope of the defense being available to those who kill out of sexual possessiveness or jealousy". In 2014, the New South Wales law on provocation was amended to provide that the provocative conduct of the deceased must also have constituted a serious indictable offense.
Killing of wives due to adultery has been traditionally treated very leniently in Brazil, in court cases where husbands claimed the "legitimate defense of their honor" (legitima defesa da honra) as justification for the killing. Although this defense was not explicitly stipulated in the 20th-century Criminal Code, it has been successfully pleaded by lawyers throughout the 20th century, in particular in the countryside, though less so in the coastal big cities. In 1991 Brazil's Supreme Court explicitly rejected the "honor defense" as having no basis in Brazilian law.
Prior to 1975, the French Penal Code of 1810 allowed lighter sentences for crimes of passion (between one and five years in prison rather than perpetual hard labour).[quantify] Article 324 permitted the murders of an unfaithful wife and her lover at the hand of her husband, though only "at the moment" when the wife and her lover were "[caught] in the fact" by the husband in the matrimonial home. On November 7, 1975, Law no. 617/75 Article 17 repealed Article 324. Many countries, including some western countries like Belgium, were legally influenced by the Article 324. Prior to 1997, Belgian law provided for mitigating circumstances in the case of a killing or assault against a spouse caught in the act of adultery.[need quotation to verify] In Luxembourg, Article 413 (repealed in 2003) provided mitigating circumstances for murder, assault and injury of an adulterous spouse.
Article 324 of the French penal code was copied by Middle Eastern Arab countries. According to the Honour Based Violence Awareness Network, the penal codes that were enacted under the Napoleonic Empire influenced the development of laws in North Africa and the Middle East. These laws permit reduced sentences for murders that are "related to honour". The French Article 324 inspired Jordan's Article 340 and Article 98. The 1858 Ottoman Penal Code's Article 188 was also inspired by Article 324. Both the French Article 324 and Ottoman article 188 were drawn on to create Jordan's Article 340, which was retained after a 1944 revision of laws, and still applies to this day.
Italy has a long tradition of treating crimes of passion with leniency. Until 1981, the law read: "Art. 587: He who causes the death of a spouse, daughter, or sister upon discovering her in illegitimate carnal relations and in the heat of passion caused by the offence to his honour or that of his family will be sentenced to three to seven years. The same sentence shall apply to whom, in the above circumstances, causes the death of the person involved in illegitimate carnal relations with his spouse, daughter, or sister."
In the Roman Empire the Roman law Lex Julia de adulteriis coercendis implemented by Augustus Caesar in 18 B.C.E. permitted the killing of daughters and their lovers who committed adultery at the hands of their fathers and also permitted the killing of the adulterous wife's lover at the hand of her husband.
Portugal, has a long tradition of tolerating, and even encouraging, crimes of passion, under the "legitimate defense of honor", which was also brought to Brazil. During the authoritarian Estado Novo regime, (1933-1974) women rights were restricted. Although improvements in tackling domestic violence have been achieved, particularly with legal reforms in 1982, lenient punishments continue to be given by judges, partly due to the strongly patriarchal ideology that still persists in the judicial system. Although the Supreme Court of Justice in recent years has, in most cases, rejected the defense of "passion" in domestic homicides, such defense remains open to use due to the legal framework of murder in Portuguese law, namely article 133. This article is very broad in scope, is subject to interpretation, and has a very low punishment of only 1 to 5 years, which due to the regulations of the Portuguese Penal Code, usually results in suspended sentences. This article, called "Privileged homicide" (Homicídio privilegiado) states that when the murder takes place under an understandable violent emotion, compassion, despair or other socially or morally relevant motive, such as to significantly diminish the murderer's degree of guilt, the punishment in this case is 1 to 5 years. Furthermore, the Criminal Code under Articles 71 and 72, provides guidelines to sentencing for crimes, making reference to honorabale motives and provocation by the victim. The international GREVIO expert body which is responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Istanbul Convention by the State Parties (which include Portugal) has called on the Portuguese authorities to reform the Criminal Code, to ensure that it is compatible with article 42 of the Convention, which states that "Parties shall take the necessary legislative or other measures to ensure that, in criminal proceedings initiated following the commission of any of the acts of violence covered by the scope of this Convention, culture, custom, religion, tradition or so‐called “honour” shall not be regarded as justification for such acts. This covers, in particular, claims that the victim has transgressed cultural, religious, social or traditional norms or customs of appropriate behaviour."
Killing due to adultery traditionally fell under the provocation defense. In 1707, English Lord Chief Justice John Holt described the act of a man having sexual relations with another man's wife as "the highest invasion of property" and claimed, in regard to the aggrieved husband, that "a man cannot receive a higher provocation".
Although provocation in English law was abolished on 4 October 2010 by section 56(1) of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, it was replaced by a relatively similar defence of "loss of control" created by section 54. There has been considerable controversy regarding the application by the courts of the new law; although section 55 states "(6) In determining whether a loss of self-control had a qualifying trigger (...) (c) the fact that a thing done or said constituted sexual infidelity is to be disregarded", in a controversial decision by Lord Judge in R v Clinton  1 Cr App R 26 in the Court of Appeal, Lord Judge interpreted the new offence as allowing for sexual infidelity to count under the third prong of the new defence (see Baker and Zhao 2012). This decision has received heavy criticism from academics. Vera Baird has also been very critical of the decision, writing, "It seems that parliament says infidelity doesn't count and the court says it does."
in 2009 a man was cleared of murder but convicted of manslaughter by reason of provocation for stabbing his partner and his best friend to death when he found them having sex. In another case, sexual infidelity leading to a "loss of control" was considered acceptable as a defence by Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge, potentially reducing a murder charge to manslaughter.
In Uruguay, crimes of passion was legally tolerated until 2017. In certain circumstances, the law exonerated a perpetrator when a killing or a battery was committed due to "passion provoked by adultery". Article 36 of the Criminal Code provided for this:
"Artículo 36. (La pasión provocada por el adulterio)
La pasión provocada por el adulterio faculta al Juez para exonerar de pena por los delitos de homicidio y de lesiones, siempre que concurran los requisitos siguientes:
- 1. Que el delito se cometa por el cónyuge que sorprendiera infraganti al otro cónyuge y que se efectúe o contra el amante.
- 2. Que el autor tuviera buenos antecedentes y que la oportunidad para cometer el delito no hubiera sido provocada o simplemente facilitada, mediando conocimiento anterior de la infidelidad conyugal."
"Article 36. (The passion provoked by adultery)
The passion provoked by adultery empowers the court to exempt from punishment for the crimes of homicide and injury, provided that the following conditions are present:
- The offense is committed by one spouse against the other spouse whom he or she has caught in the act, or against the lover.
- The perpetrator has a good record and the opportunity to commit the crime was not provoked or facilitated by prior knowledge of the marital infidelity."
Since 2013, there have been ongoing political efforts to remove this provision from the Criminal Code. On December 22, 2017, Article 36 of the Criminal Code was modified to remove the crime of passion.
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