State v. Rhodes

State v. A. B. Rhodes, 61 N.C. 453, was a case in which the Supreme Court of North Carolina found that even though a husband does not have the legal right to whip his wife, the courts "should not interfere to punish him for moderate correction of her", even if there was no provocation for it. The case established that in "determining whether the husband has been guilty of an indictable assault and battery upon his wife, the criterion is the effect produced, and not the manner of producing it or the instrument used."
William Henry Malones Criminal Briefs, published in 1886, describes Justice Reades opinion in this case to be "the most complete and satisfactory to be found in the books."
Siegel notes that the decision "tacitly incorporates their relative privileges and disabilities under the marital status rules of the common law", "discusses questions of authority and submission in the affect-based discourses of companionate marriage", and asserts "that an affectionate wife has the reserves of altruism to forgive her husbands outbursts of violence".


1. Background
The jury in the case had rendered a special verdict finding that the defendant struck his wife "three licks with a switch about the size of one of his fingers but not as large as a mans thumb without any provocation except some words uttered by her."

2. Ruling
With regard to the wifes behavior that led to the husbands whipping her, the court noted, "The witness said there was no provocation except some slight words. But then who can tell what significance the trifling words may have had to the husband? Who can tell what had happened an hour before, and every hour for a week? To him they may have been sharper than a sword."
The decision was gender-neutral, in that the court noted, "We will no more interfere where the husband whips the wife than where the wife whips the husband".
The ruling ended by noting, "Because our opinion is not in unison with the decisions of some of the sister States, or with the philosophy of some very respectable law writers, and could not be in unison with all, because of their contrariety--a decent respect for the opinions of others has induced us to be very full in stating the reasons for our conclusion. There is no error. Let this be certified, etc."

3. Legacy
The case was part of a pattern in which legislatures and courts condemned chastisement doctrine yet did not intervene in cases of domestic violence they considered trivial, out of concern for marital privacy. Similar cases in that vein included Bradley v. State and State v. Oliver.