Provocation (legal)

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In jurisprudence, provocation is a possible defense by excuse; via which, a defendant may argue that they should not be held criminally liable for breaking the law, as they were provoked by an aggressor. While courts rarely agree that a successful demonstration of provocation should eliminate criminal charges, this may result in a mitigated sentence. This defense has been used with some success in cases dealing with domestic violence and barfights.

In Common Law jurisdictions such as the UK and several Australian states, the defense of provocation is only available against a charge of murder and only acts to reduce it to a manslaughter conviction. Such a conviction is often known as voluntary manslaughter. It is more serious than involuntary manslaughter, which comprises both criminally negligent manslaughter and unlawful and dangerous act manslaughter.

In some jurisdictions with Criminal Codes, such as the Australian states of Queensland and Western Australia, provocation also serves as a complete defence to assault-based offences such as assault occasioning bodily harm.

In the United States, the Model Penal Code substitutes the broader standard of extreme emotional or mental distress for the comparatively narrower standard of provocation.

Examples of provocation

Most courts have held that provocation must take the form of some action witnessed by or inflicted upon the defendant. Mere taunts or fighting words are insufficient to qualify as provocation. Circumstances that have traditionally given rise to a defense of provocation include:

  • Extreme battery or assault inflicted by the deceased upon the defendant, but not the degree that would give rise to a defense of self-defense.
  • Mutual combat (aka dueling).
  • An illegal arrest of the defendant by the deceased.
  • Serious injury inflicted by the deceased upon a close relative of the defendant.
  • Discovery of adulterous conduct by a spouse.
  • Although not a traditional provocation circumstance, some jurisdictions have held that a non-violent homosexual advance constitutes sufficient provocation to reduce a charge of murder to manslaughter.

See also

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