Girouard v. State

Court of Appeals of Maryland, 1991.

321 Md. 532, 583 A.2d 718.

Dressler, pp. 238-242

Facts: The defendant’s wife verbally taunted him.  He killed her.  He was convicted of murder.  He appeals on the basis that her provocation was sufficient to mitigate his offense to manslaughter.


Issue: Should the defendant’s offense be mitigated to manslaughter?


Rule: Words can only constitute adequate provocation to mitigate if they are accompanied by the threat of bodily harm.


Analysis: Joyce’s taunting did not realistically threaten any bodily harm to the defendant; therefore, her provocation was not adequate to mitigate the defendant’s offense.


The reason for this rule is that as a matter of social policy, we don’t want domestic disputes to end in the killing of a spouse.


Conclusion: The court upheld the verdict.


Notes and Comments


1.     The rule from this case defines adequate provocation as “calculated to inflame the passion of a reasonable man and tend to cause him to act for the moment from passion rather than reason.”  Under the Christiancy instruction, I would vote for manslaughter.  The difference between the two instructions, in my view, is that the Christiancy instruction does not require the provocation to be “calculated”.  It also softens the language such that it is necessary only that the provocation “might render” someone “liable” to act irrationally.

2.     Presumably, in practice, words really do cause violent reactions.  I think the rule is as it is because we think people should not react to words with violence.  Therefore, we will punish people for doing so.  I’m not sure how you can justify informational words being more provocative than insults.

3.     Dressler tries to bait us with a case where lay jurors voted to acquit a man who beat his girlfriend because she berated him.  The decision makes sense to me.  I think sometimes words can hurt more than fists, and the law should reflect this.  People shouldn’t feel like their choice of verbally abusing someone is protected by the law.

4.     If we would have mitigated the seriousness of the guy’s offense if he killed people while being sodomized, it would seem that it would be inconsistent to not mitigate the offense when he kills later.

5.     Under Girouard, the question is whether the provocation is adequate.  Here, if D may reasonably infer that X and V were having sex, and if V was technically still D’s wife, then technically D would have a defense to murder.

6.     It appears that Aaron would be found guilty of voluntary manslaughter in Pennsylvania, but in most jurisdictions would not have such a defense.


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