Blame it on the beasts
January 5, 2012 6:24 PM   Subscribe

Bugs and Beasts Before the Law - "Murderous pigs sent to the gallows, sparrows prosecuted for chattering in Church, a gang of thieving rats let off on a wholly technical acquittal – theoretical psychologist and author Nicholas Humphrey explores the strange world of medieval animal trials." More on the theme of barnyard scapegoats from the BBC podcast documentary: Animals on Trial.
posted by madamjujujive (22 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
You want The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals by E. P. Evans, a century-old book with wonderful illustrated plates that is still in print(!). I believe I read an extract of this in law school, and I tracked down the book in the library. Quite amazing.
posted by grobstein at 6:35 PM on January 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

posted by crunchland at 6:35 PM on January 5, 2012

I saw "Animals on Trial" and was all joyful that Cheney was finally getting what he deserved. I'm disappointed, but this looks interesting as well.
posted by HuronBob at 6:39 PM on January 5, 2012

The human race really is just one protracted blink of stupidity.
posted by tumid dahlia at 6:40 PM on January 5, 2012 [9 favorites]

There's a "kangaroo court" joke in here somewhere...
posted by yoink at 6:46 PM on January 5, 2012 [4 favorites]

There was a movie where this was a central plot point, and the villagers all came forward to spam on behalf of a cow's gentle nature. I forget the title, but it was horrible.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:50 PM on January 5, 2012

I recall that Loompanics sold that book.
posted by Tube at 6:54 PM on January 5, 2012

grobstein - the article links to PDFs (complete with illustrations, looks like) of that very book.
posted by immlass at 6:54 PM on January 5, 2012

Julian Barnes' A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters (fiction) has a great chapter devoted to this (in case the link isn't precise: chapter 3 "The Wars of Religion")
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 7:08 PM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

From the first par:

The story was reported on the front page of the London Financial Times. “When a dog bites a man,” it is said, “that’s not news; but when a man bites a dog, that is news”.

Looks like the FT was paraphrasing Charles A. Dana.
posted by pomegranate2012 at 7:09 PM on January 5, 2012

cjorgenson, there was the horrible Hour of the Pig/The Advocate, with a tragically wasted Colin Firth. In that one, I think several people vouched for the good character of a donkey, not a cow.

Oh, yes, here it is. Advance to 3:08 to see the petition on behalf of Virginie.

The whole thing is on YouTube if you're feeling masochistic.
posted by maudlin at 7:10 PM on January 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

My dog has shifty eyes. Just the other day I was commenting to the missus how fortunate he was to be born under modern jurisprudence.
posted by mattoxic at 8:10 PM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

This all seems less amusing when you know that we still put inanimate objects on trial. This typically happens when the rights of the owner are irrelevant or when the prosecutor wants to vindicate his possession of something that has no other (known) owner.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:14 PM on January 5, 2012 [3 favorites]

in Russia, a bell that peeled too gleefully on the occasion of the assassination of a prince was charged with treason and exiled to Siberia.

How I've longed to do this after one too many beers the night before.
posted by arcticseal at 8:51 PM on January 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

This all seems less amusing when you know that we still put inanimate objects on trial.

In rem actions always have the best names. Some animal-themed highlights from a bit of Westlaw searching:

Hanly v. Sixteen Horses and Thirteen Head of Cattle, 97 Cal. 182 (1893)
Dooley v. 17,500 Head of Sheep, 35 P. 1011 (Cal. 1894)
Commonwealth v. Fourteen Hogs, 10 Serg. & Rawle 393 (Pa. 1823)
Nine Thousand Six Hundred and Eighty-One Dry Ox Hides, 18 F.Cas. 264 (E.D.N.Y. 1872)
U.S. v. 2, 507 Live Canary Winged Parakeets (Brotogeris Versicolorus), 689 F.Supp. 1106 (S.D.Fla. 1988)
posted by jedicus at 8:54 PM on January 5, 2012 [2 favorites]

As usual, Mr Pratchett has a quote for everything. From The Truth:

'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.'

posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:25 PM on January 5, 2012 [5 favorites]

We can laugh about this now, but if it was wasps on trial.....
posted by panboi at 2:29 AM on January 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

Any legal system that thinks animals can be criminals is flawed.
Animals are operating from instinct. Humans can operate from instinct as well, but humans can over-ride instinct.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 3:06 AM on January 6, 2012

The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals is free on the internet archive.
Here is more about the pig from the FPP and a 133 page pdf with footnotes entitled: The Historical and Contemporary Prosecution and Punishment of Animals; which has chapters such as Ecclesiastical trials; and Secular trials; and Keeping Animals in their Place: Restoring Order (and Achieving Vengenge).
posted by adamvasco at 3:47 AM on January 6, 2012

PETA has sued Seaworld for holding whales in slavery in violation of the 13th Amendment. I wonder if any of these other cases will be cited.
posted by exogenous at 5:03 AM on January 6, 2012

From LIDA — Lawyers In Defense of Animals:
Right to Counsel

Imagine being on death row with no legal representation. For countless dogs charged under the State's "vicious" dog act that is precisely their predicament. All too often they are prosecuted for simply acting as dogs - protecting their homes and their families. These cases are emotionally charged and often times politically motivated placing the dog and her guardian at a distinct disadvantage vis-a-vis the State. Frequently, the guardians are told to surrender their dogs for euthanasia or face high fines and prosecution. Those whose guardians do not succumb to the intimidation and who exercise their right to a trial must be prepared to pay legal fees, impound fees, which mount daily, expert fees, veterinary costs and court costs.

The plight of the death row dog is symbolic of all animals for whom LIDA is seeking to establish and assert rights within the legal system. It is mirrored by:

• the colony of Trap Neuter Return (TNR) cats being torn from their home and caretaker;
• the bull indentured to the rodeo;
• the geese being rounded up for extermination.

Where conviction carries potential consequences of significant magnitude, the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees humans the right to counsel. Non-human animals facing significant curtailment of their liberty or even loss of their life have no such right.

LIDA believes that the fundamental right to counsel should extend to all animals who face a loss of life or a significant loss of their liberty.
More in their FAQ.
posted by cenoxo at 5:13 AM on January 6, 2012

"Not guilty, because puppies do these things."
(New Yorker Cartoon by Charles Barsotti)
posted by cenoxo at 5:53 AM on January 6, 2012

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