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Aztec and Maya Law

Maya Criminal Law

Under the Maya legal system, punishments for various crimes were severe. Murder, rape, incest, treachery, arson, and acts that offended the gods were punishable by death. However, the Maya distinguished between intentional and accidental acts. For example, individuals who were found guilty of homicide were sentenced to death. However, if a killing was accidental, the perpetrator was ordered to pay restitution or sell one of his slaves to the victim’s family. If the perpetrator was a minor, he would be ordered into slavery. Theft crimes were punished with restitution or temporary enslavement. The sentences of slavery and restitution were not limited to the perpetrator, but were also passed on to his family members. Maya homes were subject to special protection because they did not have doors. Individuals who entered homes to cause damage or injure others were sentenced to death. Nobles who were found guilty of crimes were treated especially harsh and were forced to have their faces permanently tattoed as a symbol of their crimes.

Adultery was considered a criminal offense. Married women who committed adultery were publicly shamed and their lovers were stoned to death. Their husbands had the option of leaving the marriage and finding a new spouse. Married men who committed adultery were sentenced to death unless their extra-marital affair was with an unmarried woman.

Pardons were available for criminals. Adulterers could avoid punishment by being pardoned by the injured husband, and families of murder victims could demand restitution in lieu of capital punishment.

Sources: Foster (2002), Herrera (2001), and Salcedo Flores (2009).