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To constitute a mitigating factor sufficient to negate the element of malice, and thereby reduce murder to manslaughter, the provocation must be "adequate." For a provocation to be "adequate," it must be calculated to inflame the passion of a reasonable person and tend to cause that person to act for the moment from passion rather than reason. That describes one aspect of "adequacy." There is another, which flows from the requirement that the passion be that of a reasonable person; the provocation must be one the law is prepared to recognize as minimally sufficient, in proper circumstances, to overcome the restraint normally expected from reasonable persons.
Defendant John David Dennis, whose wife left the marital home, killed the wife's paramour after allegedly seeing the wife and paramour getting ready to engage in a sex act. Convicted of premeditated first-degree murder, burglary, and the unlawful use of a handgun, defendant argued that the trial court refused to instruct the jury properly on the crime of manslaughter and erred in allowing into evidence certain statements made at the scene of the crime by his wife.
In affirming the convictions, the Court held that the trial court did not err in its instructions. To constitute a mitigating factor sufficient to negate the element of malice and reduce murder to manslaughter, the provocation had to be "adequate;" discovering one's spouse in an embrace with a paramour did not constitute adequate provocation when at some earlier time she committed adultery with that paramour. Antecedent events did not suffice to give the triggering event a legal quality it did not otherwise have. The Court further ruled that the wife's statements to a police officer were admissible as excited utterances because the statements related to a startling event and were made while she was still under the stress caused by that event.