Honorable Murder: The Delitto d’Onore and the Zanardelli Code of 1890

Thursday, January 5, 2017: 3:30 PM
Governor's Square 15 (Sheraton Denver Downtown)
Steven Hughes, Loyola University Maryland
United Italy’s first comprehensive penal code contained a number of liberal innovations including the abolition of the death penalty and granting workers the right to strike.  One might include as well a surprising liberality towards the delitto d’onore, in which – usually – a husband would kill his wife and her paramour when found in flagrante delicto and receive a substantially reduced penalty.   I say surprising, because despite its liberal features, the code was created by legislators extremely concerned with issues of law and order – especially Italy’s “sad primacy” for having the highest murder rate in Western Europe.  Nevertheless when it came to this form of murder, the code was particularly lenient, allowing for a minimum penalty of one year’s reclusion as opposed to the eighteen years of hard labor laid out for murder in a street fight.  Moreover, the code broadened the parameters of who could receive a mitigation of penalties for such murder, going substantially farther than previous codes in Italy. Indeed preliminary research indicates that some pre-unitary codes offered no legal recognition of the delitto d’onore, while others offered mitigation only to the husband or to a woman’s parents – as long as the tryst was discovered in the family home.  Such details weaken the current view of delitto d’onore as a continuous legal tradition going back to ancient Rome, but they also underscore the seemingly paradoxical generosity afforded by the Zanardelli code to the practice.  With its adoption a woman could murder her spouse with equal “right” as a man. Meanwhile, fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, and grandparents could likewise kill wayward daughters with expectation of leniency and was no longer restricted to the family home. Why liberal Italy would privilege rather than curtail such a custom is the focus of the proposed paper.
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