Professor Jonathan Witmer-Rich’s article, “The Heat of Passion and Blameworthy Reasons to be Angry,” has been published in the American Criminal Law Review, the nation’s leading criminal law journal. The article resolves a long-standing conceptual puzzle in voluntary manslaughter cases, when a defendant kills in the “heat of passion” after being provoked. For decades courts in provocation cases have struggled to determine which features of a particular defendant are properly relevant when assessing the adequacy of provocation.
The article solves this puzzle by identifying a hidden normative component of the heat of passion doctrine: provocation is not adequate if the reason the defendant became extremely angry is due to some blameworthy belief or attribute of the defendant. A belief is blameworthy if it contradicts the fundamental values of the political community.
The blameworthiness principle also explains when the heat of passion defense should be denied to some defendants—such as possessive men who kill independent women, or defendants who claim “gay panic” or “trans panic”—while allowed for other defendants in arguably similar circumstances.
Jonathan Witmer-Rich, The Heat of Passion and Blameworthy Reasons to be Angry, 55 Am. Crim. L. Rev. 409 (2018).