Adultery charge could get NY woman 90 days in jail

posted at 2:20 pm on June 11, 2010 by Ed Morrissey

It’s been 400 years since the days of Hester Prynne and Reverend Dimmesdale, but apparently not in New York.  A clear-cut case of public lewdness has transformed a Batavia woman from a head case to a test case after police charged her under Section 255.17 of the state’s penal code, which criminalizes adultery and carries a potential 90-day sentence if successfully prosecuted.  Is Suzanne Corona a victim of anachronistic and sexist laws, or does she get what she deserves for her outrageous conduct? Warning – the video is mildly NSFW (via The Week):

A married Batavia woman on Friday became the 13th New Yorker in nearly 40 years to be charged with adultery after police said they caught her having sex with a man in full view of children and their mothers at a Batavia playground.

Batavia police said they were called to Farrall Park about 5 p.m. by the mother of a small child who was visiting the park along with numerous other women and their children.

The woman reported two people were having sex on a picnic table under a pavilion.

Officer Matthew Baldwin arrived and charged Justin M. Amend, 29, of Oakfield, and Suzanne M. Corona, 41, with public lewdness, a misdemeanor.

Baldwin also charged Corona with adultery because he was aware that she was married, police said.

An act “involving kissing,” with Amend’s genitals exposed? Er, anyone want to guess what people saw in the park? Sounds like a full Billy Jeff without a cigar aperitif.

Why didn’t the police charge Amend with adultery?  He professed ignorance of Corona’s marital status.  That seems to me to be a case of prosecutorial discretion that didn’t get extended to Corona, who may well have been unaware that criminal sanctions still existed for sex outside of one’s marriage.  The question of violating the law would apply to both people involved in adultery, and intent should have been left to the courts — if, of course, the point was the enforcement of the adultery law instead of taking a punitive position in regard to the woman involved.

Without a doubt, both Corona and Amend should get prosecuted for public lewdness, and let a jury weigh the evidence.  Why two grown people found it necessary to put their oral copulation on display for an unwilling audience is beyond me.  If neither of them had the means to conduct their adultery in their homes, then they should have rented a hotel room — or,  better yet, reconsidered the entire affair.  A woman who acts in such a crass and disgusting manner hardly makes a sympathetic figure for a legal protest.

However, I have to agree with Jeanne Sager at The Stir that people have the “right” to select their own sex partners, within the bounds of age, consanguinity, and military discipline.  The violation in this act is really between the wife and her husband, who could choose to pursue a civil claim against both his wife and her lover if he so chooses (which so far in this case he doesn’t.)  I believe that laws do have a moral basis, but the morality is generally based on harm done to the community instead of disputes about bed partners.  I don’t condone adultery at all, but neither do I believe that the state should criminalize the act. We have government interfering in too many private transactions as it is.

What do you think?  Take the poll:

Update: In the comments, Jimbo3 gives the applicable statute for Amend’s defense:

255.20 Unlawfully procuring a marriage license, bigamy, adultery: defense.

In any prosecution for unlawfully procuring a marriage license, bigamy, or adultery, it is an affirmative defense that the defendant acted under a reasonable belief that both he and the other person to the marriage or prospective marriage or to the sexual intercourse, as the case may be, were unmarried.

If Corona told the police that she never informed Amend of her marital status, that would explain how Amend got off the hook.


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