Murder LEGAL in Texas until 1974?

According to this cite:


While I’m not terribly surprised to learn that the leading capital punishment state would find murder acceptable if it was done in the name of revenge, I am curious about the specifics of this law. How much of a “window” did you have from catching them in the act to committing the murder(s)? Could a wife kill her husband if she caught him having an affair? Are there any of these murderers out on the loose now, never having been charged for the offense?

Not that this answers your question directly but I know of just such a case. I am from rural Louisiana and I had a boss at a part-time job during high school that killed his wife’s lover during these exact circumstances. He came home, heard them having sex, got his shotgun and shot him in the back while he was on top of her. The lover died shortly after. My boss never did a day of prison time because the “crime” (I mean adultery, not the killing) occured inside his own home. Louisiana has very liberal laws that allow you to kill to defend your home or to stop a crime within your home and his lawyer successfully argued that this fit this case.

Traditionally, killing a cheating spouse after catching them in the act was considered manslaughter, not murder. A less serious offense, but one that still will get you thrown in jail for a while.

I would love to a see a cite for this Texas statute.

Oh, and BTW. My ex-boss and his wife are still happily married to this day. I don’t think that she cheats on him in more and she might have a hard time finding volunteers if she wanted to stray. :slight_smile:

Let’s see. Quick search of database of Texas cases finds this 1951 case. Harwell v. State, 242 S.W.2d 388 (Tex. Crim. App. 1951).

And then, this 1931 case:

and continues

Steadham v. State, 43 S.W.2d 944 (Tex. Crim. App. 1931).

And, I think that’s enough.

cynic, I’m glad you found this so easy to believe.

I remember hearing this claim while growing up in Texas, but I never could remember if it was supposed to be OK to kill the wife or the lover. I never worried about it much though, since even as a kid it sounded like BS to me. I can assure you it’s and urban legend

The state is not Texas, it’s called “temporary insanity”.

In rereading Robb’s post I can see that it’s an urban legend not without consequences. I wonder how many times men have killed their wife or wife’s lover thinking that it was OK under Texas law. More likely they just beat the bejesus out of 'em. Still…

Sailor, temporary insanity is different from being really, really pissed off.

For what it’s worth, my grandfather almost killed my grandmother and the man he caught in bed with her. He decided not to since someone needed to raise my mother and he wouldn’t have been around to do so if he killed his wife.

This was in Texas in the 1920s. My grandfather was a detective, so I’m pretty sure that he knew how the law stood on the issue at that time.

…and that’s probably another reason he didn’t commit murder, Cornflakes.

I’m a little annoyed that people tend to equate support for the death penalty with a permissive attitude toward violent crime. The death penalty is a punishment for a criminal, convicted in a court of law of a capital offense. This is very different from Joe Bob coming home and finding his wife boinking the milkman. In fact, in that instance in Texas, Joe Bob would probably have a good chance of facing the death penalty. Especially in a Texas court.

Cynic, by the way, welcome to the ranks of “Those Who Have Been Taken In By An Urban Legend™”.

This is not an Urban Legend. Dr. David Buss is a reputable scientist and author, and it is unlikely that he would perpetuate stereotypes about Texans since he teaches psychology at the University of Texas.

Since I attacked the OP, I’ll try a bit of defense now.

However he came up with it, I seriously doubt Texas ever had a “never-go-to-jail” card on this point. If its there, its exceedingly well hidden.

The best I can think of, is that our dear psychologist is misunderstanding a part of Texas law, which very likely is a part of all criminal jurisprudence in the States. Texas had, and still has, concepts that diminish intent. Not surprisingly, the punishment of a homicide varies depending on the culpable mental state of the person accused. Intent in Texas now as follows:

Sometimes a law allows a defendant accused of one mental state to receive a lesser penalty if the jury decides the defendant had a different mental state. For example, under present murder law in Texas, a defendant who can show he acted under sudden passion, he can be punished as a lesser crime.

A concept similar to sudden passion has existed in Texas law for some time, I believe. The possibility is that our dear psychologist somehow misunderstood this concept in Texas law and made an unsupported, blanket statement.

I can find cases that suggest that this old concept was called “adequate cause”. It was a statutory way to decrease a homicide from murder to homicide. It would still be a criminal act, although of a lesser degree than murder.

>> Sailor, temporary insanity is different from being really, really pissed off

Nah, you just need a good defense lawyer :wink:

Let’s take another look at Dr. Buss’ quote:

Buss is very specific here. He claims that a particular law was changed in 1974, and implied that there was specific language in the law that described what actions a “reasonable man” might take in such circumstances.

I don’t have the time, resources or inclination to research Texas law prior to 1974, but I am quite confident that this claim is bullshit.

Dr. Buss may indeed teach at the University of Texas, but this doesn’t mean that he is immune from perpetuating the stereotype of Texans as a bunch of yahoos. However to be fair to Dr. Buss, the Texas Legislature is famous for doing some really stupid things, so it’s somewhat understandable.

Now as Robb suggests there may have been some special consideration given to a person in this situation, but that is far different from making murder legal.

Dr. Buss is not the only one making this claim. A Google search also turned up these:





Much as it pains me to say this, cynic is correct about Article 1220. The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals (our supreme court for criminal cases) quotes the statute in the case of Shaw v. State, 510 S.W.2d 926, 927 n.1 (Tex. Crim. Apps. 1974):

The court also notes that the Article 1220 defense was repealed as of Jan. 1, 1974.

It’s so cool when I hear something that sounds ULish and it turns out to be true. Assuming that minty green isn’t pulling our legs, I must say “Way to go, cynic.”

Wow! Do I have egg on my face.

This is Snopes-worthy.

(Sorry if this is a double post.)

I never make up legal citations, lucwarm. But I can’t link you to where I found the case in the database 'cause you need to be a member of the Texas Bar to get in. Also, and the court’s web site only go back a few years. If anyone else knows another free Texas database, feel free to leave a link–I just double-checked, and the citation is correct.

Well, isn’t that something.

I believe I see my mistake. If a husband merely suspected his wife of adultery (see Steadham v. State), Texas law was much too civilised to justify homicide, whereas if wife were caught during adultery, homicide was justified. Wow.

My apologies for the error.