Why the "Crime of Passion" Defense is Demeaning to Everyone
Every violent crime is unique because each crime is committed by individuals, in varying circumstances, against specific victims. When such a crime occurs, the tiers of people involved in analyzing the crime―police, journalists, and attorneys—to name a few, attempt to get in the perpetrator’s state of mind to understand why. We, the public, try to comprehend the mindset as well, because it’s sensational and causes us to question our morality and brings up feelings of fear and vulnerability that we usually try to avoid.
Our criminal justice system is very much based around a deontological philosophy, meaning that our mores in relation to the details of the crime are often what dictate how we feel about crimes. This affects the outcome of trials. If this were not the case, if all we ever looked at were the actions of the perpetrator, then our whole criminal justice system would be entirely different. Criminal justice would be simplified to a point that a computer could take over the court system, removing the need for human judgement. However, it might also mean that self-defense would be moot because the bottom line would be: someone was killed and it doesn’t matter why.
One defense strategy is often the idea of a “crime of passion.” The example I’ve always heard is that a man comes home and finds his wife in bed with another man, and he kills because he is so shocked and upset. First, the situation postulated is deeply rooted in the patriarchal belief that a wife belongs to a husband. Obviously, this scenario does play out occasionally with reversed gender roles or same-sex couples, but time and time again the example is given of a man discovering his cheating wife, and he’s so outraged that he kills one (or both) of them. This act, if taken to the extreme, is merely reinforcing the idea that men are defined by aggression and aren’t expected to monitor themselves and that women who aren’t faithful, or don’t fit society’s sexual behavior expectations deserve punishment.
These scenarios are insulting to both genders, and even more insulting to our society as a whole.
Coming home upon a scene like those described (and yes, there are other cases in which the crime-of-passion defense is used, but the examples mentioned are most well-known) is traumatizing and causes people to become incredibly angry, confused, and heartbroken. However, that doesn’t mean someone should not be accountable for his or her actions. Throughout the day, a person can get irritated or stressed by any number of things, from interpersonal conflicts to money problems to bad drivers. Yet we’re expected not to hurt people based upon these stressors and/or the people associated with the stressors. Why is the case of discovered infidelity any different?
Life is a series of ups and downs and our emotional responses to these events are difficult to control. Nevertheless, we always can control our actions, which, in turn, affect our emotions. If a person can’t handle the possibility of his or her significant other cheating on them, then maybe they shouldn’t be in a relationship, in the first place.
We are accountable for our actions. In fact, it’s the only thing we’re accountable for because our actions are under our control. When someone is not held responsible (or held significantly less so) for taking a life because of this sort of situation, it is accepting that we are beings ruled solely by our emotions, devoid of critical thinking, disconnected from the consequences of our doing.