Criminal Law, Pages 267–273

State v. White

Supreme Court of Utah, 2011

Facts:

Defendant and her husband had been married for eleven years, but the marriage was difficult, as her husband was addicted to pornography, had an affair with with another woman, and would suggest that defendant join them in their adulterous affair. This caused defendant great anxiety, which only increased when the couple eventually divorced, as she then had to support her two daughters while seeing less of them due to increased work. Her then ex-husband stopped paying child support and canceled her medical insurance, which led to her being unable to pay for her anxiety medications.

Defendant attempted to refinance her home but needed her ex-husband's approval. He refused unless she fully assumed two prior mortgages. She left to her vehicle, heard a violent song on the radio, told her ex-husband that he was a parasite she would eliminate, and drove off.

She returned later that day to discuss it again, when she saw him leaving the building talking on a phone he claimed he did not own. In her anger, defendant accelerated her vehicle towards her ex-husband, drove through the building's front doors, and hit him with her vehicle, injuring his leg. She thought she had killed him but was calm and matter-of-fact.

Procedural History:

  • Defendant was charged with attempted murder and criminal mischief. The trial judge denied defendant's motion to instruct the jury on the extreme emotional distress defense, concluding that her stress was common for divorcees.

  • Court of appeals affirmed, finding that the only contemporaneous triggering event was her ex-husband's use of a cell phone, which was not sufficiently provocative.

Issue:

Should the defense of extreme emotional disturbance have been presented to the jury?

Reasoning:

The court of appeals's requirement that that there be a highly provocative and contemporaneous triggering event is not given in the statute. This requirement was taken from a case before the requirements were developed. "Contemporaneous" does not appear in the current case law, which tries to distance itself from the former "heat of passion" defense.

Rule:

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[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."

Judgment:

Remanded to reevaluate whether to allow defendant's proposed defense.

Note:

Defendant eventually pled guilty to aggravated assault and criminal mischief and was sentenced to a year in jail.