What Is a Crime of Passion?

by Cato Conroy about a year ago in fact or fiction

You may have heard a killing being described as a "crime of passion" by police, but what does that really mean?

What Is a Crime of Passion?

In the world of criminal investigations, detectives and other crime-fighting professionals have a variety of different tools to help them track down a perpetrator who committed a crime. One of these tools is categorization by motive, and it's actually one of the most important ways to determine who could be the perpetrator in more baffling crimes.

For violent crimes, the need to establish a motive becomes even more important, and can make or break the ability to successfully charge someone with a crime. No motive means a difficult time gathering evidence, or even figuring out where evidence couldbe found.

There are a number of different motives that people may have for killing a person. Money, for example, is a common theme among many killers and white collar criminals. The other common theme is what police call a "crime of passion" or "heat of passion crime."

Believe it or not, crimes of passion aren't always about love. Here's the truth behind this common term, and why it matters for crime-solving individuals.

Before we begin, it's important to understand what can happen if someone is alleged to have committed a passion crime.

Depending on where you live and what local laws are like, crimes of passion could be a reason to give the perpetrator a lower sentence. The rationale behind it suggests that the person "wasn't thinking clearly."

With murder cases, being cited as committing a crime of passion can make the difference between second-degree murder and manslaughter.

Most people associate the term "crime of passion" with homicide, but it's not always the case.

Though death is often the outcome of a crime that falls into this category, it's possible to enact a passion crime without killing the victim. Any sort of violent crime can be considered to be a crime sparked by "passion," and that includes things like assault, sexual assault, or manslaughter.

Now that you know that crimes of passion can be non-lethal, let's talk about what this term actually means in terms of motive.

As the name suggests, a crime of passion is a criminal act that was done due to overwhelming emotion.

The majority of the time you'll hear this term used deals with jilted lovers of all types. Simply put, this is the kind of crime that involves being hurt by a lover to the point that they feel retaliation is necessary.

The most common way this term is used is to describe the kind of crime that a jealous lover might commit after seeing that their partner has cheated on them. Whenever you hear about a cheating spouse getting killed or the "other man" being assaulted, it's a clear-cut example of a "passion crime."

That being said, a torrid love affair isn't the only reason one could be said to commit this kind of crime.

The main definition of a crime of passion is a crime that has been committed that isn't premeditated. Rather, the crime that's been committed was one that was done impulsively due to overwhelming emotion.

For example, if a man caught someone molesting his child and immediately shot the child molester, it would be a crime of passion. On a similar note, if someone saw a person beating up their spouse and hit them in the head with a crowbar, it would be a crime of passion.

Rage is usually the emotion that people feel when they commit a crime of passion.

Though the technical definition is "overwhelming emotion," the truth is that rage is the most common reason why passion crimes happen. For some, sorrow and grief can also be tied into this kind of crime.

Any time an otherwise rational person had been harmed to the point that they "just snapped," it's possible that you might see them commit a violent crime of this category.

Forensic psychology books have been written on the subject, which only goes to show how common this kind of crime really is.

It's worth pointing out that domestic violence gets dicey in terms of being categorized under this umbrella term.

Abusive relationships are very commonly mentioned when it comes to murder charges. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that they are crimes of passion.

In the case where a battered victim defends themselves from an abuser by shooting them, it's actually violence carried out in self-defense. On the other hand, if an abuser kills their partner, it's considered to be a domestic violence cycle that ended in murder.

Some cases have had judges who called domestic violence crimes as passion crimes. Many of those cases were appealed and later changed to domestic violence crimes, charging the criminals with a higher offense.

Due to the nature of tumultuous relationships, there's a lot of grey area between domestic violence and passion crimes. Sometimes it's just safer to say that it's both.

The case of Dorothy Stratten's murder is a good example of this. The 20-year-old Playboy model had approached her husband, Paul Snider (the founder of Chippendales), for a divorce.

Things were rocky when she asked for a divorce, but no one could have foreseen what happened. That same year, she was raped and killed by him. Almost immediately after he killed her, he shot himself.

The vast majority of cases you'll see in this category will have a jilted lover who chooses to enact revenge against the person or persons who hurt them. However, this isn't always the case.

A good example of how a crime of passion can involve cheaters as the perpetrators is the case of Martha Freeman. She was a typical housewife who ended up falling for an immigrant named Rafael DeJesus Rocha-Perez.

The two had an affair that ended up with Rafael sleeping in her closet. When Freeman's husband found out, Martha and Rafael beat him to death in a panic.

As one would expect, the sheer amount of drama that's often involved with these kinds of crimes make for an incredible news story. Newspapers love a good story, and that makes many passion crimes instantly famous due to the sheer juiciness of the details.

A good example of a famous crime of passion could be seen with Lorena Bobbitt, when she cut off her husband's penis. Due to the amount of abuse and infidelity she suffered over the years, she snapped and cut it off.

News groups saw the story's insanity and quickly published details everywhere. It became a major scandal that turned her name into a term for "jilted housewife."

A similar example can be found in Jodi Arias, who killed her ex after he broke up with her. She claimed it was self-defense, but the drama shows that it could have been something else.

What makes a crime of passion so unique is the sheer amount of intensity they tend to have. It's never just a simple murder; there's a wild story with high emotions involved.

At times, these kinds of crimes end up taking a turn for the bizarre—such as what happened with Lisa Nowak when she attacked her love rival while wearing a diaper.

Insanity seems to be the name of the game with passion crimes, so if you're into reading juicy stories, finding out about local crimes of passion could be the best way to enjoy a true crime reading session.

fact or fiction
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Cato Conroy

Cato Conroy is a Manhattan-based writer who yearns for a better world. He loves to write about politics, news reports, and interesting innovations that will impact the way we live.

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