Passion's Progress: Modern Law Reform and the Provocation Defense

119 Pages Posted: 3 Aug 2012

See all articles by Victoria Nourse

Victoria Nourse

Georgetown University Law Center

Date Written: 1997


Based on a systematic study of fifteen years of passion murder cases, this article concludes that reform challenges our conventional ideas of a "crime of passion" and, in the process, leads to a murder law that is both illiberal and often perverse. If life tells us that crimes of passion are the stuff of sordid affairs and bedside confrontations, reform tells us that the law's passion may be something quite different. A significant number of the reform cases the author has studied involve no sexual infidelity whatsoever, but only the desire of the killer's victim to leave a miserable relationship. Reform has permitted juries to return a manslaughter verdict in cases where the defendant claims passion because the victim left, moved the furniture out, planned a divorce, or sought a protective order. Even infidelity has been transformed under reform's gaze into something quite different from the sexual betrayal we might expect -- it is the infidelity of a fiancée who danced with another, of a girlfriend who decided to date someone else, and of the divorcee found pursuing a new relationship months after the final decree. In the end, reform has transformed passion from the classical adultery to the modern dating and moving and leaving. And because of that transformation, these killings, at least in reform states, may no longer carry the law's name of murder.

Keywords: crime, criminal justice, feminist legal theory, provocation, defense, crimes of passion, murder, manslaughter, legal reform, model penal code, domestic violence, intimate homicide

JEL Classification: K10, K14, K19

Suggested Citation

Nourse, Victoria, Passion's Progress: Modern Law Reform and the Provocation Defense (1997). Yale Law Journal, Vol. 106, pp. 1331-1438, 1997, Georgetown Public Law Research Paper No. 12-106, Available at SSRN:

Victoria Nourse (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

600 New Jersey Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
United States

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