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Heat of Passion
A phrase used in criminal law to describe an intensely emotional state of mind induced by a type of provocation that would cause a reasonable person to act on impulse or without reflection.
A finding that a person who killed another acted in the heat of passion will reduce murder to manslaughter under certain circumstances. The essential prerequisites for such a reduction are that the accused must be provoked to a point of great anger or rage, such that the person loses his or her normal capacity for self-control; the circumstances must be such that a reasonable person, faced with the same degree of provocation, would react in a similar manner; and finally, there must not have been an opportunity for the accused to have "cooled off" or regained self-control during the period between the provocation and the killing.
The rule of law that adequate provocation may reduce murder to manslaughter was developed by the English courts. It was a means of avoiding the severity of the death penalty, a fixed punishment for murder under the common law, when the act of killing was caused by natural human weakness.
The type of provocation considered serious enough to induce a heat of passion offense varies slightly from one jurisdiction to another, although the usual test is reasonableness. Depending upon the circumstances, assault, battery, adultery, and illegal arrest are illustrative of what may be held to be sufficient provocation.
In almost all cases, the reasonableness of a provocation is a decision made by a jury.