In certain circumstances, it may be possible to lessen the severity of a murder conviction. The law has long recognized that intensely emotional situations may lead to immediate irrational behavior. While this behavior cannot be excused entirely, a finding of sudden passion can lead to more lenient punishment.
It is important to note that sudden passion is not a defense to a murder charge. In fact, the discussion of whether sudden passion existed is not brought up until after the defendant is convicted. Under Texas law, during the punishment stage of the trial, the defendant may introduce evidence that the death was caused under the immediate influence of sudden passion arising from an adequate cause.
If this is proven by a preponderance of evidence, the murder is a second-degree, rather than a first-degree felony. The difference is significant as a first-degree murder is punishable by a mandatory minimum prison sentence of five years and a potential maximum sentence of up to 99 years. A second-degree felony has a mandatory minimum of two years, with a potential maximum of 20 years. These issues are called mitigation issues and can often be the most important of a murder case.
“Sudden passion” is defined as passion directly caused by the individual killed or another acting with the person killed, and which arises at the time of the offense and is not solely the result of former provocation. The example most commonly used is a person who finds a spouse in bed with another lover and becomes so overcome with emotion that he or she kills the spouse, lover, or both. Importantly, the murder must occur within the “heat of the moment,” as opposed to some point in the future after the person has been able to reflect on the situation.
Premeditated murder is considered very serious because it means a person gave a great deal of thought to killing another person. A finding of sudden passion eliminates the element of premeditation. But, it does not mean that the person is not responsible for the murder. It simply shows the defendant’s state of mind at the time of the offense. Whereas premeditated murder requires a person to take time to think about and plan the crime, sudden passion murder erupts spontaneously, without any contemplation.
“Adequate cause” is defined as 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. Discovering a spouse in the act of committing adultery is typically considered adequate cause. However, what is considered adequate cause will largely depend on the facts of an individual case.
Houston Criminal Defense Attorneys
At the Law Offices of Tad Nelson & Associates, we have extensive experience in handling criminal defense cases. The penalties for a murder conviction are the most severe under Texas law. If you have been charged with murder, contact us as soon as possible and let us go to work helping you obtain the best possible outcome. Come visit us in The Heights to discuss your Murder and let us help you figure out your best defense.