The Napoleonic Code Article 324 is a part of the 1810 penal code, and it is something that has been copied by many countries, which allowed for men to put forward the defense of “crimes of passion”, claiming provocation or loss of control, in instances such as if a man finds his wife ‘in the act’ of being unfaithful. During the 1800s, approximately one-half of all trials where the crime of passion defense was used resulted in acquittal.
The actual law states:
Murder, committed by the husband, upon his wife, or by the wife, upon her husband, is not excusable, if the life of the husband or wife, who has committed such murder, has not been put in peril, at the very moment when the murder has taken place.
Nevertheless, in the case of adultery, provide for by article 336, murder committed upon the wife as well as upon her accomplice, at the moment when the husband shall have caught them in the fact, in the house where the husband and wife dwell, is excusable.
The code was altered in 1832, so that the crime of passion defense no longer constituted a complete defense, but was rather be sufficient enough to reduce the sentence of the defendant. The code provided that a murder committed by a husband upon his wife, or vice versa, was not excusable unless the life of the person committing the murder was put in danger at the time when the murder occurred, essentially, making it an act of self-defense.
Adultery, however, is covered under article 336, which says that where a husband committed the murder of his adulterous wife and his accomplice, at the moment when he caught them in the act of ‘flagrante delicto in the conjugal home’ is excusable.
In such cases, any sentence imposed may be substantially reduced. Given that in France the death penalty was used for murder for a long time, and other punishments included forced labor or deportation, the reduction of a sentence is a major part of the bill.
Many countries still use the ‘crimes of passion’ defence, both in Europe and in the western world, it is clear that there is a viewpoint in those countries that women who stray from their men are ‘the frail sex’ falling to temptation, and that they deserve the death penalty for it (in a sense), as do the men who lead them astray.
One issue that many feminists raise is that the subscription to Article 324 implies that a female’s life is worth less than that of her husband. That the husband, in essence, owns the woman and that if the woman brings shame upon him then she deserves whatever punishment he wishes to mete out, even if that punishment is as severe as death.
France no longer uses that code themselves, and the European Courts place equal value on all life and will punish murders as murder regardless of the circumstances with the consideration of self-defense. Laws in other parts of the world, even in some western countries that are outside of Europe, however, can vary massively on how they view issues of adultery and the idea of a crime of passion. While it can be understood that walking in on adulterous behaviour is a traumatic thing, the idea that it can drive someone to murder is clearly one that will cause heated debate amongst lawmakers, and that is not going to get solved in the next few years – given that it has been a debate for more than 200!