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Did the piggy have a mens rea?
February 26, 2013 9:27 AM   Subscribe

In the Middle Ages, animals that did bad things were tried in court. Maybe that’s not as crazy as it sounds. "In the fall of 1457, villagers in Savigny, France witnessed a sow and six piglets attack and kill a 5-year-old boy. Today, the animals would be summarily killed. But errant 15th-century French pigs went to court. And it wasn’t for a show trial—this was the real deal, equipped with a judge, two prosecutors, eight witnesses, and a defense attorney for the accused swine. Witness testimony proved beyond reasonable doubt that the sow had killed the child. The piglets’ role, however, was ambiguous. Although splattered with blood, they were never seen directly attacking the boy. The judge sentenced the sow to be hanged by her hind feet from a “gallows tree.” The piglets, by contrast, were exonerated."
posted by bookman117 (49 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Seeing pigs/animals were very valuable, this doesn't suprise me.

Although the sow saying "the little @#$# had it coming" was a shock to the court.
posted by stormpooper at 9:28 AM on February 26, 2013 [6 favorites]


Check out Evans, E. P. (1906, 1987), The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals, which is still in print I think because it is often taught in classes dealing with witchcraft.

It has awesome illustrations.
posted by grobstein at 9:30 AM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


The piglets, by contrast, were exonerated.

And, in time, delicious.
posted by Danf at 9:32 AM on February 26, 2013 [6 favorites]


The dominant explanation from legal scholars and historians is that, in a society of people who believed deeply in a divinely determined order of being, with humans at the top, any disruption of God’s hierarchy had to be visibly restored with a formal event.

So, yeah, it's exactly as crazy as it sounds.
posted by The Bellman at 9:33 AM on February 26, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I remember seeing an image - maybe from the book that grobstein referenced - of an elephant being hanged. it was horrifying and nuts at the same time.
posted by bitteroldman at 9:33 AM on February 26, 2013


Witnesses say they never sausage brutality before.
posted by dr_dank at 9:34 AM on February 26, 2013 [50 favorites]


Not a double, but: Previously, previouslier.
posted by Sys Rq at 9:34 AM on February 26, 2013


Witnesses say they never sausage brutality before.

Booooo! Boooo!!
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 9:36 AM on February 26, 2013 [6 favorites]


in place of the pigs defense; perhaps "stand-your-ground" could have applied.
posted by berkshirenative at 9:42 AM on February 26, 2013


Aww, I'm glad the piglets were exonerated, piglets are totes adorbs. Shame they are made of pork really.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:43 AM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Can we put dr_dank on trial for that pun?
posted by Wretch729 at 9:46 AM on February 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


In 1750, a man and a she-ass landed in court for alleged bestiality. The man was quickly convicted and sentenced to death.

At least he didn't break the commandment by coveting his neighbor's ass....
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:49 AM on February 26, 2013


I don't think the actual practice of trying animals sounds crazy at all, absent a consideration of the beliefs underlying the practice, but then I just recently attended a philosophy conference wherein my girlfriend presented a paper arguing various bases on which the admission of non-human animals behind Rawls' veil of ignorance might be justified, so maybe I'm biased.
posted by invitapriore at 9:49 AM on February 26, 2013


Can we put dr_dank on trial for that pun?

Be careful, since the "evident cries of enthrallment during the melee were said to confirm their expressed approval of it, whether they were directly responsible or not" could be said to apply to other commenters in this thread referencing dr_dank....
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:51 AM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Cracked, perhaps unsurprisingly, has a list of seven examples of animal trials.

The first is surprisingly (comparatively) recent: A monkey put on trial in Italy (PDF of article) when a woman stole candy from the primate and was subsequently bit. The judge refused to try the case and the monkey climbed onto the judge's desk and doffed his cap in gratitude.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:57 AM on February 26, 2013


they were raised by a rogue mother, and thus unable to internalize the proper codes of conduct for village-dwelling piglets

What about city-dwelling piglets? And farm-dwelling piglets? Don't they get the same codes? What about when they move to the city after growing up in a village -- how are they going to know how to act? Life is so confusing for a piglet.
posted by DoubleLune at 10:04 AM on February 26, 2013


Check out Evans, E. P. (1906, 1987), The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals, which is still in print I think because it is often taught in classes dealing with witchcraft.

It has awesome illustrations.


Let me add that the Evans book is available free online, in a PDF w/ pictures (link at bottom, via previous post).
posted by grobstein at 10:14 AM on February 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


I am sure a few years years from now alien archeologists or interstellar battle mechs researching their creators are going to find the recent trend of pet shaming just as quizzical.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:15 AM on February 26, 2013


So in other words, it was ruled to be a hamicide?
posted by zueod at 10:15 AM on February 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


All you punsters deserve to be pun-ished.
posted by kmz at 10:19 AM on February 26, 2013


Witnesses say they never sausage brutality before.

So in other words, it was ruled to be a hamicide?


Jesus, talk about a disruption of God’s hierarchy that has to be visibly restored with a formal event!
posted by Naberius at 10:21 AM on February 26, 2013 [5 favorites]


It's surprising to me that this article doesn't even mention deodands. It's not just animals that were executed in the Middle Ages: inanimate objects were as well. If a trial determined that an object caused a person's death, it was either executed (destroyed) or imprisoned and rehabilitated (put to use for religious purposes).

The article argues that medievals imputed agency to animals because they were farmers who lived closer to nature and didn't yet think of animals as objects, as we do. This idealistic, "noble savage"-style argument becomes a lot less convincing when you realize that the medievals treated inanimate objects in a very similar way.
posted by painquale at 10:28 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Naberius: Jesus, talk about a disruption of God’s hierarchy that has to be visibly restored with a formal event!

Eye-for-an-eye justice, as laid out in the code of Ham-murabi.
posted by dr_dank at 10:29 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Can we put dr_dank on trial for that pun?

Totally, it's one of the wurst I've ever seen.
posted by Daily Alice at 10:31 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


Although the sow saying "the little @#$# had it coming" was a shock to the court.

And thank you, um... stormpooper for irreparably mashing up Babe and Unforgiven in my mind so now all I can see is Clint Eastwood going "we've all got it coming, pig" to an adorable talking piglet.
posted by Naberius at 10:31 AM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


The piglets, by contrast, were exonerated.

And, in time, delicious.


Having faced garnishment, after a civil court ordered them to pay restitution.
posted by Kabanos at 10:35 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I would almost advocate a return to animal trials if only to have the possibility that some animals would be aquitted and allowed to be free. Particularly in those cases where a bear eats someone who was stupidly feeding the bears even though there are signs everywhere saying "DON'T FEED THE BEARS!"
posted by teleri025 at 10:40 AM on February 26, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's surprising to me that this article doesn't even mention deodands. It's not just animals that were executed in the Middle Ages: inanimate objects were as well. If a trial determined that an object caused a person's death, it was either executed (destroyed) or imprisoned and rehabilitated (put to use for religious purposes).

One of those exciting writs nobody talks about anymore.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:40 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


The piglets, by contrast, were exonerated.

And, in time, delicious.

Having faced garnishment, after a civil court ordered them to pay restitution,

which left them in hock.
posted by Floydd at 10:45 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think I read something about that. Was the garnishment a dozen green eggs?
posted by zueod at 10:50 AM on February 26, 2013


Deodand. Interesting! I think we should bring it back. Has a certain fairness to it. I like the idea of having to parse out which part was responsible for the injury. I claim your car's wheel! Not the whole car, just the wheel.

Also I have done some animal law cases that are pretty close to the old trial of the animal. I mean technically it's a case against the owner for letting an off leash dog bite someone or whatever, but the real punishment is to the animal. Three strikes and you're out, Fluffy.
posted by bepe at 10:55 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I dimly recall reading that there are also modern legal cases against things, as a means to demonstrating that they're the proceeds of crime and can be legally seized.

I kind of wonder if an ancient case against a bunch of pigs would have been held mainly because the farmer didn't want to lose his pig without proof that it was a killer pig, rather than because of any particular view of the rights of the pig itself.
posted by jacquilynne at 11:01 AM on February 26, 2013


Oh sure there's a zillion "in rem" cases against things in forfeiture actions. They have captions like "United States vs. One Ford Mustang" or "State of Washington vs. Ten Thousand Dollars." And it technically is against the object, then any people with ownership claims have to join to fight out who gets what. So kind of similar to deodands I suppose.
posted by bepe at 11:13 AM on February 26, 2013


I remember reading about trials against locusts and mice. So they can't have been solely about forfeiting valuable livestock.
posted by colophon at 11:16 AM on February 26, 2013


It's not just trials for animals. Montaigne, in "On Cruelty", notes several instances of animals being rewarded or honored:
The Turks have alms and hospitals for beasts. The Romans had public care to the nourishment of geese, by whose vigilance their Capitol had been preserved. The Athenians made a decree that the mules and moyls which had served at the building of the temple called Hecatompedon should be free and suffered to pasture at their own choice, without hindrance. The Agrigentines had a common use solemnly to inter the beasts they had a kindness for, as horses of some rare quality, dogs, and useful birds, and even those that had only been kept to divert their children; and the magnificence that was ordinary with them in all other things, also particularly appeared in the sumptuosity and numbers of monuments erected to this end, and which remained in their beauty several ages after.
posted by kenko at 11:34 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


I kind of wonder if an ancient case against a bunch of pigs would have been held mainly because the farmer didn't want to lose his pig without proof that it was a killer pig, rather than because of any particular view of the rights of the pig itself.

Perhaps, but then wouldn't it have been simpler to have a trial that focused on the farmer? 'Farmer Tyler wants to keep his pig, the plaintiff argues that this is against the common good, how do you find?'

Animal rights may be a new political concept, but animals and people have had more or less symbiotic relationships throughout history and evolution, so seeing an animal as having a personality can't be a modern phenomenon. I reckon we're just built to think that way: we're a social species, and we have social feelings towards animals we can work or play with.
posted by Kit W at 11:38 AM on February 26, 2013


YES SHE DESERVES TO DIE AND I HOPE SHE SMOKES OVER CHARCOAL AND HARDWOOD.
posted by nathancaswell at 11:49 AM on February 26, 2013


We have something similar here where we try money:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_v._$124,700_in_U.S._Currency
United States of America v. $124,700 in U.S. Currency, 05-3295 (8th Cir. 2006),
was a decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit that was handed down on August 18, 2006.
The form of the styling of this case — the defendant being an object, rather than a legal person — is because this is a jurisdiction in rem (power over objects) case, rather than the more familiar in personam (over persons) case. In current US legal practice, in rem is most widely used in the area of asset forfeiture, frequently in relation to controlled substances offenses. In rem forfeiture cases allow property (in this case, $124,700 in cash) to be directly sued by and forfeited to the government, without either just compensation or the possessor (and presumptive owner) being convicted of a crime.
posted by mulligan at 11:59 AM on February 26, 2013


Related: there's a dog on trial here in San Francisco for attacking a police horse. (That's the most recent account I could find.)
posted by trip and a half at 12:45 PM on February 26, 2013


Would this be the time to bring up Hartlepool?
posted by leftcoastbob at 12:54 PM on February 26, 2013


If one follows mulligan's link to the wikipedia article, then selects the "jurisdiction in rem" link, they would note that one of the six references is to a question on Ask Metafilter.

I'm caught in a Metafilter loop.
posted by gagoumot at 1:18 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's something that makes intuitive sense about putting animals on trial if you believe that animals have ethical responsibilities. Most people in the West today probably would hesitate to agree to the idea that animals are or should be held to a code of ethics, but I think when it comes down to it we still imagine animals as ethical actors and generally treat them as such. We have just downplayed and deformalized the ways we hold animals responsible for their actions as part of the larger move to exaggerate human-animal difference.

In the introduction to her fantastic book on human-animal relations in Victorian England, The Animal Estate, Harriet Ritvo discusses animal trials. In the medieval era, animals weren't just put on trial, but also occasionally called as witnesses. I believe the example she uses is that if somebody broke into your house while no one was present, and you thought you knew who it was, you could bring your animals who witnessed the burglary to court. If they showed signs that indicated the guilt of the accused (say, if your dog barked at him), then it was considered testimony against him.
posted by vathek at 1:45 PM on February 26, 2013


I'm pretty sure that, as usual, this world stole this tradition from Ankh Morpork:
'What? You're telling us people will listen to a dog?' said Mr Pin.

'Unfortunately, yes,' said Mr Slant. 'A dog has got personality. Personality counts for a lot. And the legal precedents are clear. In the history of this city, gentlemen, we have put on trial at various times seven pigs, a tribe of rats, four horses, one flea and a swarm of bees. Last year a parrot was allowed as a prosecution witness in a serious murder case, and I had to arrange a witness protection scheme for it. I believe it is now pretending to be a very large budgerigar a long way away.' Mr Slant shook his head. 'Animals, alas, have their place in a court of law.

From Terry Pratchett's The Truth (2000)
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 1:45 PM on February 26, 2013 [2 favorites]


Doesn't Peter Singer propose something similar, at least for some apes? It's a logical endpoint of assigning animals the same consideration you'd assign humans.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:03 PM on February 26, 2013


Doesn't Peter Singer propose something similar, at least for some apes?

No. Not even close. Singer has proposed - through the Great Ape Project - that great apes be granted rights to life, liberty, and protection from torture. Not that they be held liable for crimes in the same way that human are. His goal is protection and respect.

He's not trying to have them accorded 'human equivalent status'. Just recognition that they experience suffering, and should be entitled not to be tortured and murderised to extinction.

It's a logical endpoint of assigning animals the same consideration you'd assign humans.

There is nothing logical about this statement whatsoever. Apes - or animals generally - do not have the same intellectual capacity as adult humans. They are arguably entirely incapable of having mens rea - intent - in a criminal sense. Holding them culpable for offences against the laws of a society that they cannot understand, participate in, or influence in any way is nothing short of absurd.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:47 PM on February 26, 2013


The Hour of the Pig (The Advocate)
posted by homunculus at 8:41 PM on February 26, 2013


There is nothing logical about this statement whatsoever. Apes - or animals generally - do not have the same intellectual capacity as adult humans. They are arguably entirely incapable of having mens rea - intent - in a criminal sense. Holding them culpable for offences against the laws of a society that they cannot understand, participate in, or influence in any way is nothing short of absurd.

So they can't understand or comprehend human society, but we should recognize that they have some rights?
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 8:45 PM on February 26, 2013


So they can't understand or comprehend human society, but we should recognize that they have some rights?

Yes. Like a child, or any other person with diminished capacity.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 2:37 PM on February 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Why Did J.P. Morgan’s Prize Bulldog Die of Shame?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 1:46 PM on March 4, 2013


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