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Deodands

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Gray
56729.  Fri Mar 03, 2006 10:05 am Reply with quote

Q: Why would the sum of $242,484 need its own lawyer?
A: When it's being tried in a US District Court.

Notes: There used to be an English law from the Middle Ages that if an object caused the death of a person, it was forfeited to the King so that he could 'give it to God' and preserve the moral fabric of the universe. It was, in effect, an identification of objects with evil itself.

Such objects, called 'deodands' (from the Latin for 'that which is given to God') included carts that had run over and killed someone, or a tree that would be cut down if someone had died falling out of it. According to William Blackstone, the famed 18th Century Jurist, "If a man falls from a boat or ship in fresh water, and is drowned, it hath been said, that the vessel and cargo are in strictness of law a deodand."

Because the rule regarding deodands was based on the 'guilt' of the object itself, property was forfeitable regardless of the guilt or innocence of its owner. As one medieval writer put it, "Where a man killeth another with the sword of John at Stile, the sword shall be forfeit as deodand, and yet no default is in the owner."

Like most law, this proves very lucrative for the prosecutors, and when the first US Congress sat in 1790, it went so much against their (then) high ethical values that they abolished it. (It was also abolished in England in The Deodands Act of 1846.)

In 1970, however, the law was very quietly re-introduced in America, in order to clamp down on Mafia racketeering using the RICO act, and thus allowing courts to confiscate any and all items even remotely associated with a crime, and bringing the case directly against the 'guilty' property itself, and not the defendant. Hence the increasing occurrence of cases with such titles as "UNITED STATES OF AMERICA versus $242,484", "United States v. One Assortment of 89 Firearms" and "One 1958 Plymouth Sedan v. Pennsylvania".

From http://www.h-net.org/~law/threads/deodand.html
Quote:
English legal scholars drew heavily upon medieval scholasticism for their rules and practices. In scholastic thought, the overriding goal of the legal system was to insure order and continuity in the cosmos, which they conceived to be a seamless web. If [a] 'rent' appeared in that web, by whatever means, it had to be repaired. This retributivist attitude was reflected in several medieval legal doctrines, two of which - deodand and lex talionis - shed light on the medival treatment of suicide."

This meant, then, that if an animal or inanimate object had been involved in a crime, it too had to be punished. In the case of suicide, the corpse was punished in various ways, such as by mutilation or denying christian burial.


Sources:
http://www.law.emory.edu/11circuit/jan2003/01-16485.opn.html
Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th Edition
http://www.ricoact.com/

 

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