La Loi, les narrations juridiques et la Violence : Le Procès du Prêtre Contrafatto

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Law through narrative seeks to maintain a world of right and wrong, of lawful and unlawful of valid and void. Violence in the case of Contrafatto represents not only the violent acts he committed, but the ramifications of legal acts: interpretations in law constitute justifications for violence which has already occurred or which is about to occur. Contrafatto’s crime and 1827 trial underscore these concomitant themes.

This paper analyzes the rhetorical strategies used by the prosecution and the defense. For the prosecution, the 5-year old Hortense LeBon’s painful, “naïve” account respire la vérité in all of its “sincerity.” Her attorney argues that she is a victim of des attentes à la pudeur avec violence, having suffered physical violence and “de la violence morale.” The King’s attorney adeptly introduces the idea that a lack of consent represents violence, intertwining law with morality. These positions challenge the traditional interpretations of the Penal Code’s Articles 331 and 332 on rape.

Law restores order through narrative. The prosecution questioned a narrow judicial understanding of how Article 332 defined violence on a child younger than 13. This is a perfect example of moral and legal innovation that Robert Cover advances in Justice Accused. Hence, the law did not inflict additional violence to Hortense le Bon by exculpating her rapist. Contrafatto was found guilty of rape and sentenced to a life of hard labor (Travaux à Perpétuité), a justified end to his freedom.