Criminal Law, Pages 255–260

Girouard v. State

Court of Appeals of Maryland, 1991

Facts:

Defendant had married the deceased, although their marriage was tense, and the deceased resumed a relationship with her old boyfriend after marrying defendant. On the night of her death, defendant overheard her telling a friend that she asked her sergeant for a hardship discharge because her husband did not love her anymore. Defendant confronted her, but she said she meant "nothing." Defendant kicked away her plate of food and went to lie down. She followed him to the bedroom, stepped on his back, pulled his hair, and began taunting him—daring him to hit her, saying she never did want to marry him, and comparing him to her father. She then said she wanted a divorce as the marriage had been a mistake she never wanted and that she filed charges against him for being abusive, which she said would lead to a court martial.

When she finished, defendant asked if she really did all of those things. She affirmed, he went to the kitchen, got a knife, returned, and stabbed her 19 times after she again began iterating how the marriage was a mistake, detailed her plans for after the divorce, and never recanted her statements. Defendant then took a shower and slit his own wrists. After laying down and realizing that his wounds were not fatal, he called the police and confessed.

Procedural History:

Defendant was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to 22 years incarceration, 10 of which were suspended.

Issue:

Were the deceased's words alone sufficient to constitute provocation?

Reasoning:

The few Maryland cases on this issue hold that words alone are sufficient for provocation. Other states agree with this conclusion. While words can constitute provocation when accompanied by actions that indicate a present intention and ability to cause bodily harm, defendant was 6'2" and over 200 pounds, while his wife was 5'1" and 115 pounds. She could not have caused defendant to fear for his bodily safety.

Evidence suggesting the defendant was mentally unstable and actually provoked by his wife, the law requires that a provocation fall under a predefined legal category of provocation. It is an objective standard of reasonableness, not one based on the peculiar frailties of the defendant's mind. A martial argument ending in one's death should not result in a manslaughter conviction. We should not support those who resolve arguments by killing their spouses.

Rule/Holding:

Words alone cannot be sufficient for provocation.

Judgment:

Affirmed.


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