Crimes of Passion
Tosca is the legendary opera diva—deceived, manipulated and coerced in Puccini’s fiery masterpiece of political intrigue and passion.
She is deceived by the treacherous and lustful chief of police Scarpia who tells Tosca that by submitting herself totally to him, she can save her lover Cavaradossi from execution. Knowing that Scarpia would otherwise rape her, Tosca is about to acquiesce, when, in a passionate rage, she stabs and kills the loathsome Scarpia.
Amid majestic soaring arias, Puccini depicts dark crimes of passion in this classic opera, telling the tale of a woman who is at once victim and criminal. While set in nineteenth century Rome during the Napoleonic era, the opera is a timeless depiction of human passion. The murderous act by a victimized woman lashing out at her abuser is as relevant today as it was in the nineteenth century. Yet, while crimes of passion and the sentiments that ignite them are centuries-old, the law has begun to witness the evolution of gender-specific legal defenses.
Tosca was the lens through which Professor Sandra Jordan and other experts examined the relationship between psychology and the law in crimes of passion. In a symposium co-sponsored by the Pittsburgh Opera and the Pittsburgh Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, Jordan, Professor at Pitt Law, presented “Women Who Kill: Gender-Specific Legal Defenses.”
“Tosca’s character is very illustrative,” said Jordan. “As we see Tosca’s motivations unfold, we come to understand that her crime is both a crime of passion and an act of self-defense.”
Historically, women committing crimes of passion “did not fare as well as men,” said Jordan. “Even when there was a ‘defense of provocation’ for the crime, such as crimes provoked by witnessing harm done to a loved one or witnessing a spouse’s adultery, men would often receive a reduction in sentencing from murder to manslaughter. When it was the other way around—when a woman claimed such defenses of provocation—there was no such reduction.
“It has only really been in the last 20 to 30 years that there has been more flexibility in the law. It is now clear that women who kill do not always fit into traditional models of criminal behavior. Battered women, rape victims, and women acting in self-defense have all caused our legal system to reconsider gender-specific legal defenses.”
Sandra Jordan knows criminal law. Jordan has prosecuted, analyzed and lectured on hundreds of criminal cases in her accomplished career. She helped investigate and prosecute the Iran-Contra defendants from 1988–1991 as an Associate Independent Counsel in Washington, D.C. Before that, Jordan was an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania. She prosecuted white collar crime as head of the White Collar Crimes unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Jordan now teaches evidence, white collar crime and criminal law at Pitt Law to students who benefit from her career experience, insights, and scholarship. And you will often see her in the national news— from ABC News to USA Today—discussing the most compelling legal issues of our time.
And now, perhaps, age-old crimes of passion, like those in Tosca.