ANNAPOLIS – Under a series of court rulings, someone who kills his or her spouse for committing adultery can be convicted of manslaughter rather than murder.
If Del. Joan Pitkin, D-Prince George’s, has her way, however, adultery will be no excuse.
On Thursday, Pitkin introduced a bill to make sure murder is murder, no matter what your spouse did. As the case law stands now, the result can be a manslaughter conviction even if the defendant was mistaken about whether adultery actually occurred.
“This is an anachronistic law that had its base in English common law, when there weren’t other alternatives to unhappy marriage situations,” Pitkin said.
The issue received widespread attention in 1994 when Baltimore County Circuit Judge Robert E. Cahill Sr. sentenced a man to 18 months of work-release. The man had been charged with murdering his wife four hours after discovering her in the act of having sex with someone else, but was allowed to plead guilty to manslaughter instead.
Sue Schenning, a deputy state’s attorney, wrote to Pitkin about a similar case in which a Baltimore County man was charged with killing his wife in the erroneous belief that she had committed adultery. Schenning said the jury acted reluctantly in returning a verdict of manslaughter instead of murder. Pitkin introduced a similar bill last year with the backing of the Legislature’s women’s caucus, but the bill died in the House Judiciary Committee. -30-