4 Apr 2022


Commonwealth vs. Schnopps

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Academic level: College

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In this case, the defendant, George A. Schnopps was sentenced to serve life imprisonment for the murder of his wife, Marylin Schnopps. The defendant appealed to the Massachusetts Supreme Court where he argued that the judge presiding over his trial in the lower court erred in failing to instruct the jury on voluntary manslaughter (Samaha, 2010). The Supreme Court judges agreed with the defendant’s arguments and set the judgement aside while at the same time ordering a new trial. In doing so, they agreed that the judge at the previous trial made an error by not pointing the jury to voluntary manslaughter when there was evidence that would have made the jury aware of the fact that the defendant injured his wife by shotting her as a result of cheatting. That was after she admitted to adultery shortly before the husband shot her. The court did not question the propriety of the verdict returned by the jury. Instead, they noted that it was in error for the judge not to bring to the knowledge of the jury the possibility of another verdict that was not to be considered (Samaha, 2010).

The testimony that the defendant gave then left the judges to ponder whether the wife’s provocation was enough justification for the jury to consider voluntary manslaughter as a possible verdict. During his testimony, the defendant admitted that issues of infidelity first came to the fore about six months before the fatal shooting. At that point, they got into a heated argument, and he even took out his gun but did not he defended himself by saying that he never intended to use it at the time but only used it as a scare tactic. In September 1979, the defendant learnt of a signal that the suspected lover used when calling his wife on the telephone. He went ahead and used it, to which the wife answered “Hi Lover,” and hung up on the realisation that it was the husband on the other end (Samaha, 2010). 

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The deceased left their marital home three weeks before her death. Mr Schnopps spoke about the issue of divorce to the lawyer. It is from the advice that she got that made her ware of the chance she had of securing the children custody on the basis of the infidelity. However, before the death of Mrs Schnopps, the defendant had made efforts of convincing the wife to come home so that they could find a way of settling their differences (Samaha, 2010). Mrs Schnopp said she would go to court and that the husband would subsequently lose everything. Further, she pointed to her crotch and said words to the effect that her husband would never get it because she had something bigger and better for it. 

In his defence, Mr Shnopps claimed that it was those words, which effectively confirmed his wife’s infidelity that made him react as he did and led him to kill her. He reached to a cabinet and took out a previously loaded gun and shot his wife, killing her on the spot, before shooting himself (Samaha, 2010). One has to agree with the Supreme Court because the immediate trigger for the murder was the admission of infidelity by Mrs Schnopps. The reasoning is that even though the couple had a history of confrontations and the threat of violence before, it never materialised until on the day of the murder when the wife conceded that she was with someone else. Looking at the murder, the fact that the Mrs Schnopps uttered words to the effect that she was with someone else outside their marriage was the last straw and the direct cause for the killing. 


Samaha, J. (2010). Criminal law (4th Ed) Belmont, CA: West/Wadsworth.

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StudyBounty. (2023, September 14). Commonwealth vs. Schnopps.


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