In our last blog post, we detailed Pennsylvania's heat of passion defense and how it would likely come up if charges were filed over a thwarted kidnapping.
Here, we'll explain the differences between complete and partial defenses, and point out why the heat of passion defense cannot lead to an acquittal.
Thwarted Kidnapping and the Heat of Passion Defense
The real-life situation unfolded like this: a women left her car running with her three children inside while she went into the Philadelphia pizza parlor where the father worked. During the few minutes she was inside, a man jumped into the car and sped off. However, he quickly got stuck in traffic, allowing the sprinting parents to catch up.
The father then pulled the driver out of the car and began beating him. Other bystanders joined in once they heard what had happened.
The kidnapper ended up dying from his injuries.
None of the children were hurt.
Even though the incident involved the intentional killing of another person – the definition of a homicide – prosecutors have not yet filed charges.
Complete Versus Partial Defenses
People who have been accused of a crime can raise certain legal defenses that invoke their rights or show that the crime was either justifiable or somehow excusable.
Some of those legal defenses are complete defenses. If a complete defense is proven, the result is an outright acquittal on the criminal charge.
Other legal defenses, though, are only partial defenses. If a partial defense is proven, the charges or the sentence are only reduced, not thrown away.
The Heat of Passion Defense is Only a Partial Defense
One of the most important aspects of the heat of passion defense in Pennsylvania is that it is only a partial defense. If you can prove that you only committed the crime because you were acting in the heat of passion, you are implicitly admitting to the criminal charge while claiming it was at least partially excusable.
For example, in murder cases, a successful heat of passion defense does not mean that all charges will be dropped or that the jury will acquit you of all charges. Instead, it will usually mean that the murder case will be dropped, but it will be replaced by a manslaughter charge.
This is why prosecutors will frequently charge murder suspects with both murder and manslaughter. If the defendant proves that they were acting in the heat of passion, the murder charge goes away, but the manslaughter charge remains the same.
Philadelphia Criminal Defense Attorney Joseph D. Lento
Choosing to pursue a heat of passion defense comes with pros and cons. Often the biggest con is that it impliedly admits that you committed the crime. In many cases, this can still be worth it as the defense can drastically reduce the penalties of a potential conviction. In other cases where you have several different legal options at your disposal, it can be a risky defense to make.
Criminal defense lawyer Joseph D. Lento knows this and can raise the heat of passion defense only when it is necessary and wise. Call his Philadelphia law office at (215) 535-5353 or contact him online.
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