When Cortiga Williams pressed charges against her husband for adultery earlier this month, she called upon a nearly forgotten law. In Mississippi, it”s a crime to cheat on a spouse by having sex or even living with another person.
The law has been in effect for more than 100 years, but it hasn”t been charged in recent memory.
“To my knowledge, in the 36 years I”ve been here, the adultery and fornication charge has never been levied,” said Columbus Assistant Police Chief Joe Johnson.
Some laws go unenforced simply because behavior has changed. There are fewer arrests for public drunkenness, for example, because more people are getting rides home than walking like they did in years past, Johnson said.
Sexual and marital laws, however, have not been used because social thinking has changed, Johnson offered. Although society sees adultery as improper, it doesn”t see it as something that should be illegal, he said. And public opinion has become even more lenient on fornication.
But if someone files formal charges, law enforcement has to investigate.
Lashawn Williams, 33, of 294 Pilgrim Rest Road in Noxubee County and Roshanda Jackson, 30, of 183 Oliver Road, were arrested July 1 when Williams” wife, Cortiga, pressed charges on her allegedly unfaithful husband and Jackson.
Lashawn Williams and Jackson were charged with adultery and fornication, respectively; both crimes carry the same penalty, up to $500 and jail time up to six months. Both were released July 1 on $1,000 bond, according to the Noxubee County Jail,
“We do have to follow the legal process,” Johnson said. “If A and B are married, and if B signs an affidavit on A and C because they are involved, they all have to come to court.”
This latest local charge of adultery isn”t the first time an old, often unenforced law has been uncovered and invoked.
In 2008, Chrissy Strickland successfully sued Melissa Simmons in Lowndes County Chancery Court for “alienation of affections” and was awarded $87,500, $30,000 in attorney fees and $500 in punitive damages.
Strickland”s husband, Chuck, cheated with Simmons, and it interfered with his ability to fulfill his legal spousal duties, according to court documents.
Still, other than a high-profile case of the same nature filed against the mistress of former Mississippi Congressman Chip Pickering, even the alienation of affection law is rarely used.
“We”ve had a couple that I remember in probably the last 10 or 15 years,” said Haley Salazar, Lowndes County circuit clerk. “They don”t have happen very often.”
There are others. There”s a whole section on dueling. (It”s illegal, and anyone caught participating will be barred from holding elected positions of honor.)
Intermarriage is still against the law, and it carries a hefty punishment: 10 years in the slammer.
It”s fine to have one illegitimate child, but two? That”s a punched ticket to 30 days in jail or $250.
It”s against the law to even teach the principles of polygamy. The penalty is a fine between $25 and $500 or one to six months in the county jail.
And don”t even think about seducing a woman with promises of future marriage. It can result in up to five years in prison.
Rep. Jeff Smith, D-Columbus, served on the Mississippi Code Committee from 1996 to 2004. Some laws go unchanged simply because it”s impossible to come to a consensus, he said.
Although the codes are usually reviewed every 30 years, the last time they were revised was in 1972. Many times, people can”t agree because of tradition, he noted.
“There was never any consensus among the code committee to repeal them,” Smith said. “Some people just say, ”That was a good law back in 1942 or 1972, and I just don”t want to vote against it.””
Caledonia, where Smith is town attorney, has some of its own strange laws still on the books.
“There was an old law that you couldn”t drive a car down a country road unless you had someone standing in front of it with a lantern,” Smith said. “At the turn of the century cars would scare animals, so it made sense back then.”
A quick drive through Caledonia indicates that everyone is breaking that one.
This story contains reporting from Dispatch writer Jason Browne.