What Is A Crime Of Passion? The Mental Health Defense In Criminal Law

What Is A Crime of Passion?

Mental HealthBy Jan 18, 2023

CRIME OF PASSION is a legal concept that describes illegal acts driven by an extreme emotional response to provocation. Crimes of this nature are neither calculated nor are they premeditated.

The term crime of passion comes from the French crime passionnel. As a defense, it falls under the umbrella of temporary insanity. It is also known as the mental disorder defense as it is associated with impaired emotional regulation.

What Causes People To Commit Crimes of Passion?

People who commit crimes of passion are said to be driven by an instinct so strong that it eclipses their ability to reason. These type of crimes are thought of as an automatic reflection to an imminent threat.

The underlying motivation for most crimes of passion is self-defense. But they can also occur while protecting others.

A Legal Loophole For Batterers

Unfortunately, the crime of passion defense can create legal loopholes for perpetrators of domestic violence. It is particularly forgiving of criminals who are prone to micro-psychotic episodes, a feature of some personality disorders.

The legal system sometimes conflates egoistic micro-psychosis with the human survival instinct , when they are two separate things. The American Psychological Association defines micro-psychosis as, “psychotic episodes of very brief duration (minutes to hours) that occur during times of stress.”

Crimes of passion driven by excessive narcissism tend to be expressions of entitlement to exert control over another. The provocation for these crimes is usually non-compliance by the other person. But, they can also be brought on by warped ideas like, “If I can’t have you, no one can.”

There are marked differences between say, a parent committing an act of violence to protect their child and a person’s whose narcissism escalates to such an extreme that they kill their intimate partner to stop them leaving the relationship.

Research shows batterers heart rates drop during their violent outbursts. In other words, someone driven to commit violence acts due to their excessive narcissism would not not experiencing stress in the way that someone acting from a survival instinct would. A narcissistic person may not be experiencing any stress at all as their assertion of dominance would give them a sense of relief.

Crimes Of Passion In The Context of Gender-Based Violence

The crime of passion defense is often used to uphold the double standard applied to gender-based crimes.

Historically, the legal system objectified women. It held that women were chattel. Therefore they were the legal property of men, such as their fathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers, and husbands. 

Men were free to do as they pleased with their property. For this reason, the law and society at large looked the other way in cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, and femicide because of the belief that women were objects and men were free to do as they pleased with their property.

Moreover, the rhetoric associated with the crime of passion defense invariably places responsibility for men’s violence on women. The ideology is manifest in phrases like:

  • (S)he was asking for it.
  • It takes two to tango 
  • (S)he made me do it.

The concept of women as property lives on in traditions in practice today. For example, a father giving away his daughter to the groom at her wedding represents the exchange of property from one man to another.

The lack of awareness about the realities of intimate partner violence lead to terrible injustices, as in the case of Ruth Williams, who was killed by her husband in 2021. He was found not guilty of her murder as he used the crime of passion defense and blamed the stress of the coronavirus pandemic for his aggression.


The crime of passion defense exists to safeguard person’s right to protect themselves and the others. However, it can be exploited by predatory individuals to escape being held to account for heinous crimes committed solely to feed their egos.

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Manya Wakefield is a recovery coach specializing in cognitive behavioral therapy and coercive trauma. Her expertise has been featured in publications such as Newsweek, Elle, Cosmopolitan, and Huffington Post. In 2019, she launched the social impact platform Narcissistic Abuse Rehab, building a global audience through human rights advocacy. The same year, she published the book ‘Are You In An Emotionally Abusive Relationship,’ which is used in domestic violence recovery groups around the world. In 2020, Manya developed The Coercive Control Legislation Global Database. She is also the host of The Narcissistic Abuse Rehab Podcast, which is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Amazon.