Heat of Passion Manslaughter in Louisiana
Updated: Sep 28
Most people are familiar with heat of passion manslaughter. But there are actually three other types of manslaughter that most people are not familiar with. The other three types of manslaughter are felony manslaughter, misdemeanor manslaughter, and resisting arrest manslaughter. This article will discuss heat of passion manslaughter in Louisiana. Subsequent blogs will discuss the other three types of manslaughter in Louisiana.
The Louisiana Criminal Code defines manslaughter as:
(1) A homicide which would be murder under either Article 30 (first degree murder) or Article 30.1 (second degree murder), but the offense is committed in sudden passion or heat of blood immediately caused by provocation sufficient to deprive an average person of his self-control and cool reflection. Provocation shall not reduce a homicide to manslaughter if the jury finds that the offender's blood had actually cooled, or that an average person's blood would have cooled, at the time the offense was committed; or
(2) A homicide committed, without any intent to cause death or great bodily harm.
(a) When the offender is engaged in the perpetration or attempted perpetration of any felony not enumerated in Article 30 or 30.1, or of any intentional misdemeanor directly affecting the person; or
(b) When the offender is resisting lawful arrest by means, or in a manner, not inherently dangerous, and the circumstances are such that the killing would not be murder under Article 30 or 30.1.
B. Whoever commits manslaughter shall be imprisoned at hard labor for not more than forty years. However, if the victim killed was under the age of ten years, the offender shall be imprisoned at hard labor, without benefit of probation or suspension of sentence, for not less than ten years nor more than forty years. [La. R.S. 14:31]
Heat of Passion Manslaughter
Heat of passion manslaughter is a homicide which would-be second-degree murder, but the crime is committed in sudden passion or heat of blood immediately caused by provocation sufficient to deprive an average person of his self-control and cool reflection. A heat of passion manslaughter is an intentional killing, but at the time of the intentional killing, the defendant’s provocation resulted in impulsive and uncontrolled action that resulted in a death. This impulsive action does not excuse the killing and the defendant is not completely exonerated. But because human beings are frail individuals,
the law allows a defendant under these circumstances to be charged or convicted of a crime that is less serious than first degree murder or second-degree murder.
For the prosecution to convict a defendant of heat of passion manslaughter, the prosecution must prove the following: (1) that the defendant intentionally killed a human being, (2) that the killing was committed in sudden passion or heat of blood, (3) immediately caused by provocation sufficient to deprive an average person of his self-control and cool reflection, (4) that the defendant’s blood had not cooled at the time of the killing, and (5) that an average person’s blood would not have cooled at the
time of the killing.
Things that have been held to be sufficient provocation of a defendant to be able to use the heat of passion manslaughter statute to reduce a charge from first degree murder or second murder are: (1) a spouse seeing an act of adultery between their spouse and another person; (2) a severe blow on the head; (3) slapping the defendant during an argument; and (4) physical threats.
Several Louisiana legal decisions have held that “catching a spouse in the act” can be sufficient provocation. Provocation has also been found when one spouse saw the other spouse preparing for the act of adultery with another. But, in Louisiana, courts have not generally found a boyfriend or girlfriend to be provoked at the sight of seeing their lover with another person. In one Louisiana case, the defendant killed his gay lover. The Court did not accept the defendant’s argument that his discovery of his lover's infidelity caused sufficient provocation to reduce his killing from second degree murder to
manslaughter because the defendant and the victim were not married and because the victim's conduct was not adultery as defined in Louisiana. The Court said in State v. Jack, 596 So. 2d 323, 326 (La. Ct. App. 1992) that "Adultery, bodily harm, threats and any other action of the victim may be considered by the jury.”). And because the defendant and the victim were not married, he was properly convicted of second-degree murder instead of heat of passion manslaughter.
Additionally, provocation is not usually found when one spouse simply has a hunch that the other spouse is committing adultery. For provocation to be found, the cheating spouse must be caught “in flagrante delicto,” that is, in the midst of sexual activity.
In another Louisiana case, the defendant was charged with first degree murder after he killed his wife and her lover after they walked into a bar together where he was drinking with friends. After being convicted of two count of second-degree murder, the defendant argued that he should have been found guilty of heat of passion manslaughter because his wife admitted to the adultery at the bar and told him
graphically about how good her boyfriend was in bed. The defendant said that when he heard these words, that he "just lost my head" and felt as though he was "kicked in the stomach" and that he had "never felt anything like that before." However, because the defendant did not catch his wife “in the act,” the court found that he was guilty of second-degree murder and not manslaughter. State v. Thorne, 633 So. 2d 773 (La. App. 5 Cir. 1994).
In another heat of passion manslaughter case dealing with a fight, the court found the defendant guilty of heat of passion manslaughter when the victim punched the defendant, threw him against a metal rail, knocked him to the ground and held him in a stranglehold. In order to free himself, defendant pulled a knife and stabbed the victim. In this case, State v. Lombard, 486 So. 2d 106 (La.1986), the Louisiana Supreme Court reduced the defendant's second-degree murder conviction to manslaughter, reasoning
that such sudden provocation would have deprived a reasonable man of self-control.
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