Women and Justice: Court: New York Court of Appeals

Domestic Case Law

In re Romano New York Court of Appeals (1999)

Domestic and intimate partner violence

The Court of Appeals, New York’s highest court, removed Romano, a town and village justice, from office, in part, because of his insensitivity to victims of domestic violence.  The justice engaged in egregious misconduct in his courtroom, at an arraignment, where a defendant was charged with violating a protection order and assaulting his wife.  After reviewing the charges, Romano stated, from the bench, “What’s wrong with that?  You’ve got to keep them in line once in a while.”  The Court of Appeals concluded that the evidence in the record supported the Commission’s findings that Romano seriously abused his judicial authority.  The court reasoned that Romano’s misconduct demonstrated a pattern of serious disregard for the standards of judicial conduct that “exist to maintain respect toward everyone who appears in a court.”

People v. Liberta New York Court of Appeals (1984)

Sexual violence and rape

The defendant's wife filed a criminal complaint against him, claiming that he raped her. He moved to dismiss the charge because, under New York Penal Law section 130.35 (“Section 130.35”), which contained a marital exemption, a husband could not be convicted of raping his wife.  The trial court granted Defendant’s motion and dismissed the indictment based on the marital exemption.  The Appellate Division reversed the decision of the trial court and remanded the case for trial.  The Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the Appellate Division, finding Section 130.35 was unconstitutional due to the marital exemption provision.  “Where a statute draws a distinction based on marital status, the classification must be reasonable and must be based upon ‘some ground of difference that rationally explains the different treatment.’”  The court found that there was no rational basis for distinguishing between marital rape and non-marital rape and thus declared the marital exemption unconstitutional.  The court reasoned that the marital rape exemption denies married women equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the New York and United States Constitutions.  Further, the court stated, “Rape is not simply a sexual act to which one party does not consent.  Rather, it is a degrading, violent act which violates the bodily integrity of the victim and frequently causes severe, long-lasting physical and psychic harm.  To ever imply consent to such an act is irrational and absurd.  A marriage license should not be viewed as a license for a husband to forcibly rape his wife with impunity.  A married woman has the same right to control her own body as does an unmarried woman.”