“Sudden Passion” Murder Cases in Texas

sudden passion in Texas

Sudden Passion and Murder in Texas

A wife comes home early one day and discovers her husband engaged in sexual activity with another woman. Enraged, the woman goes to her closet, retrieves a gun, and kills his lover. At her murder trial, the wife’s attorney asks the jury to consider whether the wife acted in “sudden passion” when she committed the murder. What is sudden passion and how would it affect the wife’s sentence after being convicted of murder?

What is “Sudden Passion”?

Sudden passion is a mitigating finding that can raised by a murder defendant during the punishment phase of the trial. It allows jurors to consider whether the defendant had been provoked to such a level of fear, rage or resentment that any reasonable person in a similar situation “would have been capable of cool reflection.” If jurors find that a defendant acted in sudden passion, the maximum punishment for murder is reduced from life in prison to 20 years.

Take the example from above. After the jury finds the wife guilty of murder, her defense team then asks the jury to consider if the wife acted in “sudden passion” at the time the murder was committed. If the jury finds that the wife acted in sudden passion, the wife would be facing punishment for a second-degree felony instead of a first-degree felony. This difference in felony degrees would significantly lessen the range of punishment the wife would receive.

Is Sudden Punishment a Defense to Murder?

Sudden passion is not a defense to murder and cannot be raised until a jury has found a defendant guilty of murder in the guilt/innocence phase of the trial. After the guilt/ innocence phase of a trial, the jury determines a defendant’s sentence in the punishment phase of the trial. The issue of sudden passion is raised during the punishment phase of the trial because a finding of sudden passion only affects the type of punishment that defendant can receive.

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How Does The Argument of Sudden Passion Affect Punishment?

If a jury finds a defendant guilty of murder but also finds that a defendant acted in sudden passion when the murder was committed, the murder charge is mitigated from a first-degree felony to a second-degree felony. In Texas, a first degree felony carries a sentence of 5 to 99 years in a state prison and a fine of no more than $10,000. A a second-degree felony carries a sentence of 2 to 20 years and a fine of no more than $10,000. In other words, if sudden passion is found, it caps the defendant’s possible punishment at 20 years in prison.

How does Texas Law Address Sudden Passion?

The Texas Penal Code 19.02(a)(2) defines sudden passion as “passion directly caused by and arising out of provocation by the individual killed or another acting with the person killed which passion arises at the time of the offense and is not solely the result of former provocation”. Further, Texas Penal Code 19.02(d) explains that the actions that caused the murder must have arisen while the defendant was under the immediate influence of sudden passion arising from an adequate cause. Texas Penal Code 19.02(a)(1) describes an adequate cause of sudden passion as a degree of emotion, such as terror, anger, rage, or resentment; that would be sufficient to render the mind incapable of cool reflection. This cause, however, cannot come from the defendant’s own making and is assessed in a person of ordinary temper. Finally, there must be a causal connection between the provocation, passion, and the murder.

Review by a Client after an Acquittal in a Murder Trial

By: A. Jones

Title: Murder: Not Guilty

I was arrested for murder on March, 27, 2014 I received a court appointed attorney whose name I won’t discuss. She was no good for me never made communication or put forth the effort to help me. Then a blessing came I received Joetta Keene and Christie Jack. Two of the best lawyers I’ve ever witnessed. They are amazing watching them work left me in awe. I would not want to be on the wrong end of an argument with these ladies. Christie is so soft spoken, but the woman sure can make people tremble in their seat. I was nervous for the opposition. She grilled them good. As far as communication goes this woman did more for me in 2 months than my previous Lawyer did in 2 years this speaks volumes to her work ethic. She prepared for a murder trial at such a short notice. When we got the not guilty verdict. It was the right verdict but it was a well deserved win for this nice lady. Very compassionate, I will forever recommend Mrs. Jack to anyone with legal troubles. One of the best in Texas. No Mrs. Jack was the blessing I needed and as a court appointed attorney she did high class work. Im forever grateful.

Rating:★★★★★ 5 / 5 stars
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Benson Varghese

Managing Partner at Varghese Summersett PLLC
Benson Varghese is the founder and Managing Partner of Varghese Summersett PLLC. He is a prolific writer and has authored hundreds of articles about criminal law in Texas and at the Federal level. His articles have been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Above the Law, and have been selected as Top Blogs by the State Bar of Texas. He was named the Young Lawyer of the Year in 2019 by the Tarrant County Bar Association. Benson led the firm to become one of the 500 fastest growing businesses in the United States by Inc 500 Magazine in 2018. In the same year, the firm was named the Best Law Firm in Fort Worth by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The lawyers at Varghese Summersett PLLC exclusively handle criminal defense matters.
Benson Varghese
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