Maliciously Cheating on One's Lover = Soon-to-Be Felony in Missouri?

A few weeks ago, I blogged about how a proposed law in Massachusetts would (likely inadvertently) criminalize cheating on one's lover -- not just adultery, but cheating on nonmarital relationships as well. A few days ago, I blogged about how the Missouri legislature had passed a law criminalizing emotionally distressing another person.

But I completely missed the connection between the two: Under the Missouri bill (which will soon be law, assuming the Governor signs it), it will be a crime to cheat on a lover with the purpose of emotionally distressing them.

The law makes it a crime to "Without good cause engage[] in any [act other than communication] with the purpose to frighten, intimidate, or cause emotional distress to another person, [and thereby] cause such person to be frightened, intimidated, or emotionally distressed, [when] such person's response to the act is one of a person of average sensibilities considering the age of such person." Say someone cheats on one's lover in order to distress them, for instance to retaliate for the lover's past affair or other mistreatment, and then allows the lover to discover this. That's engaging in an act with the purpose of causing emotional distress to another person. It causes emotional distress. The emotional distress is what a person of average sensibilities would experience under the circumstances. And it's hard to see any "good cause" for cheating, though I suppose the defendant could try to persuade the jury to the contrary.

And it's not just cheating, in the sense of illicit sex. The same could be if you have a not-yet-sexual romantic relationship with Alan, and then let yourself be caught kissing Bob in order to distress Alan. The touchstone, after all, is just the intentional infliction of emotional distress.

But wait, there's more: Let's say that you're not trying to hurt your regular lover, but the regular lover is under seventeen (for instance, if you're both sixteen; sex among sixteen-year-olds isn't statutory rape in Missouri), and you recklessly let slip something in conversation with the regular lover that reveals your cheating. That too might be a crime, because it's "[k]nowingly communicates with another person who is ... seventeen years of age or younger and in so doing and without good cause recklessly ... caus[ing] emotional distress to such other person." I suppose that if you just confess to the lover, that probably wouldn't be a crime, since the desire to come clean might be seen as "good cause." But if you just let something slip, it's hard to see how the reckless causing of emotional distress would be seen as having a "good cause" (especially since the slip may make the cheating even more distressing than either successful concealment or a deliberate confession).

Fortunately, all this is just a class A misdemeanor -- except if you're a repeat offender: If you've been found guilty of violating the law before, subsequent violations are class D felonies.

Oh, and if you're a parent who recklessly lets slip to your under-17 child that you're cheating on the child's other parent, that's a class D felony, too, since the "[h]arassment" will have been "[c]ommitted by a person twenty-one years of age or older against a person seventeen years of age or younger."

And yes, I know that prosecutorial discretion will keep these cases from being filed often. But how much are you willing to trust prosecutors? What if the wronged lover -- or the wronged lover's parent -- is a prosecutor, or a police officer or other government official or prominent citizen who has the prosecutor's ear? What if the cheating unintentionally leads to harm (even suicide, which cheating sometimes does lead to), and the public demands retribution? Might it not be better to just avoid the problem by not passing such broad and vague laws to begin with?

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Missouri Prosecution for Emotionally Distressing a Minor:
  2. Maliciously Cheating on One's Lover = Soon-to-Be Felony in Missouri?
  3. A Crime to Emotionally Distress People?