Animals as Defendants - ANIMALS as DEFENDANTS - RATIONALE

ANIMALS as DEFENDANTS - RATIONALE (Illustration) Law and Politics Medieval Times Trials Social Studies World History

This image depicts the frontispiece of The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals, by E. P. (Edward Payson) Evans (1831-1917), published in London, during 1906, by W. Heinemann. In this work, Evans details the trials of numerous animal defendants througouth the centuries. Click on the image for a better view.


At first glance, it seems that stories about these trials - in which animals were charged as defendants - are just folk tales. It is impossible to fathom how a prosecutor could prove "criminal intent" on the part of an animal defendant.

How would a non-thinking being suddenly become a thinker, capable of forming criminal intent?

On the other hand, a respected French jurist and criminal lawyer  - who was called-upon to represent such "clients" - wrote about these types of cases in 1531. Bartholomew Chassenee discussed the type of legal analysis which applied during the centuries when the practice was used.

How did the analysis typically work?  If an animal killed someone, for example, people thought  that Satan was acting through the animal.  Why else would it destroy human life? Sometimes the guilty animals were even excommunicated by the Catholic Church.

In addition to pigs and rats, other Medieval-era animals (and insects) charged with crimes included:

E. P. Evans, in his 1906 book entitled The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals, tells us that judging animals extends back in time to ancient Greece. Even inanimate objects - such as a fallen pillar - could become a criminal defendant. The point of the cases was to investigate how terrible events had come about.

The medieval legal system employed some of the most-educated individuals working at the time. Lawyers, and their clerks, would seek to find answers why bad events had occurred. In defending animals, these judicial workers helped to shed light on community calamities.

Lest we, in the "modern" age, get too smug about "unenlightened" medieval people, it might be useful to keep this fact in mind.  The last-known case involving an animal defendant "standing" trial happened in Switzerland ... in 1906.


READ MORE ABOUT IT via Evans' book - The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals (1906)


Check out this excellent bibliography

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jul 01, 2000

Updated Last Revision: Dec 04, 2014

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