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The Case Of Spousal Murder

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By the mid-1600s, it is clear that women were being pushed to the margins of society, impoverished and with little chance for employment, leading to increased criminal activity and contact with a court system under pressure to punish offenders. However, available court records for crimes committed by women, in fact, show that while they engaged in the same activities as their male counterparts, they were not always treated in an equitable manner. At times women could be treated more harshly for upsetting social norms of behavior, while studies have also shown they could be treated with greater leniency depending upon the crime. This is especially true in the case of spousal murder, for which charges and sentencing could be vastly…show more content…
Urban centers used the punishment more frequently than rural counties and this may have to do with simple geography. The process of sentencing a prisoner to transportation meant that the prisoner had to be held in goal (in most cases) until a ship was available and then transferred to port, a process that could be cost prohibitive. Further, while criminal procedure in early modern Britain may, from a distance, seem to be uniform in legal procedures, studies of individual counties show this to not be the case. It is not the intent of this chapter to reproduce studies that focus on the vagaries of English law and its application, but to look broadly at the sentencing options available to juries outside of transportation. By tracing the development of crime and punishment, it is possible to illustrate the ways in which the sentencing alternative of transportation, especially after the passage of the 1718 Transportation Act, would critically impact the judicial process for women convicted of property crimes. In order to illustrate this impact, we will first look at property theft by dividing the crime into two broad categories — grand larceny (major offenses) and petty larceny (minor offenses) — then examine the intertwined sentencing options available to juries, and the ways in which such sentencing guidelines could be malleable in application. Finally, changes in sentencing brought about by the increasing
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