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Ex parte Fraley

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Fraley (Defendant) shot a man he believed had killed his son nine or ten months prior and claimed that the killing was in the heat of passion.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    The standard for determining the length of a “cooling down” period for purposes of classifying a homicide as murder or manslaughter is an objective one.

    Facts.

    Defendant shot and killed a man whom he believed had killed Defendant’s son nine or ten months prior. The decedent had been acquitted of that killing. After shooting him, Defendant said, “I told you I’d kill you.” Defendant argued that his act was done in the heat of passion and that he could only be guilty of manslaughter. The court denied bail based upon the murder charge and Defendant filed a writ of habeas corpus.

    Issue.

    Is the standard for determining when an individual has “cooled down” for purposes of determining whether a homicide is properly murder or manslaughter an objective one?

    Held.

    :(Richardson, J.) Yes. The standard for determining the length of a “cooling down” period for purposes of classifying a homicide as murder or manslaughter is an objective one. A homicide committed while in the heat of passion is manslaughter, not murder. However, the law must draw a line beyond which a defendant cannot enjoy the benefit of this rule, even when that individual defendant has not actually “cooled down.” Here, the period of time between provocation and the fatal act was nine or ten months. The law cannot possibly allow this length of time to be considered reasonable for the heat of passion. Bail denied.

    Discussion.

    The objective standard here asks whether a “reasonable man” would have cooled down during the applicable period of time, not whether the defendant himself actually did. A subjective standard is used as well, but if the defendant’s subjective state of agitation lasts longer than reasonable, the objective standard is applied. This objective standard seems based on the idea that a reasonable man will get agitated to the point of killing another.


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