Monday, April 27, 2009

30 Rock: The Black Widow

30 Rock: The Ones
(aired April 23, 2009)

Facts: Jack proposes to marry Elisa but Elisa has a secret. In confidence, she tells her friend Liz that years ago she killed her husband in a fit of rage after she caught him having an affair with another woman. Elisa was never convicted because they could not find an unbiased jury. After a night bundled up with her Slanket, Liz tells Jack about Elisa's past. Jack is concerned that he's marrying a murderess.

Issue: Did Elisa murder her first husband?

Law: Generally speaking, murder is the intentional killing (or intent to inflict grievous bodily harm that results in the death) of another person. Voluntary manslaughter is an intentional killing, committed in the "heat of passion" based on sufficient provocation.

Analysis: Likely not. Although she could not find an unbiased jury to decide her guilt, Elisa is probably guilty only of voluntary manslaughter. Traditionally, finding your spouse in flagrante delicto with someone else can create sufficient passion to provoke the jilted spouse into murdering her husband, provided there is no "cooling off" period and there is a link between the provocation, emotion/passion, and killing.

Elisa's case is a good example of voluntary manslaughter brought on by a cheating husband. Note, though, that if Elisa knew about the affair and killed her husband at a later date, she would likely be guilty of murder as she would have had a sufficient period of time to "cool off." The gist of voluntary manslaughter is in a fit of passion you commit homicide.

Bonus: And before you think this means Elisa walks away, voluntary manslaughter is still a felony and can lead to a long period of confinement, albeit far less than in the case of murder. For example, if Elisa had committed the offense in Virginia, her voluntary manslaughter would lead to a Class 5 felony conviction, which carries a sentence of one to ten years. However, if a Virginia jury convicted her of first-degree murder, that is a Class 2 felony and carries a sentence of twenty years to life. And they don't let you wear "What the Frak" t-shirts in prison.


  1. Great legal insight. Now maybe you can discuss the legal consequences of Jenna's calling 911 just to try to find a date. Anything there?

  2. Barring a specific law to the contrary, I'd guess she's fine with the 911 calls because she called for legitimate purposes (even though she also had ulterior motives): Kenneth's allergic reaction to strawberries. If she made a false call, that might be false pretenses but I'm not sure if 911/EMT response is a good (and it must be a good or object) with false pretenses.

    We forgot the underlying reason for the call, though. Jenna tricked Kenneth into eating strawberries knowing it would cause grave bodily harm. Had Kenneth died this would be murder most foul, instead it's just attempted murder or battery (intentional act causing bodily injury).