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State v. White - 2011 UT 21, 251 P.3d 820 (Sup.Ct.)

Rule:

A person acts under the influence of extreme emotional distress when he is exposed to extremely unusual and overwhelming stress that would cause the average reasonable person under the same circumstances to experience a loss of self-control and be overborne by intense feelings, such as passion, anger, distress, grief, excessive agitation, or other similar emotions.

Facts:

Brenda White was charged with the attempted murder of her ex-husband, Jon White, after she chased and hit him with her car at Jon's workplace. Shortly after she was charged, Brenda filed a pretrial motion asking the trial judge to instruct the jury on the extreme emotional distress defense. In her motion, Brenda argued that the defense was warranted because, on the date of the incident, stress she felt from her divorce, along with financial difficulties and other emotional problems, overwhelmed her ability to act rationally and caused her to lose all self-control. The trial judge denied Brenda's motion. The court of appeals affirmed. 

Issue:

Did the appellate court err by requiring defendant Brenda White to show a highly provocative triggering event that was contemporaneous with her loss of self-control?

Answer:

Yes

Conclusion:

The court held that the appellate court erred by requiring White to show a highly provocative triggering event that was contemporaneous with her loss of self-control. The word "contemporaneous" did not appear anywhere in the Utah Code § 76-5-203(4)(a)(i) (2008) or case law on the extreme emotional distress defense, and defendant's loss of control could be attributed to a significant mental trauma had affected defendant's mind for a substantial period of time, simmering in the unknowing subconscious and then inexplicably coming to the fore.

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