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Related to bills of attainder: Act of Attainder


At Common Law, that extinction of Civil Rights and capacities that took place whenever a person who had committed Treason or a felony received a sentence of death for the crime.

The effect of attainder upon a felon was, in general terms, that all estate, real and personal, was forfeited. In common law, attainder resulted in three ways: by confession, by verdict, and by process or outlawry. The first case was where the prisoner pleaded guilty at the bar, or having fled, confessed guilt and abjured the realm to save his or her life. The second was where the prisoner pleaded not guilty at the bar, and the jury brought in a verdict against him or her. The third, when the person accused made his or her escape and was outlawed.

In England, by statute 33 & 34 Vict. c. 23, attainder upon conviction, with consequent corruption of blood, Forfeiture, or Escheat, was abolished. In the United States, the doctrine of attainder is now scarcely known, although during and shortly after the Revolution acts of attainder were passed by several of the states. The passage of such bills is expressly forbidden by the Constitution (Art. I, Sec. 9).

Bills of attainder are special acts of the legislature that inflict capital punishments upon persons supposed to be guilty of high offenses, such as treason and felony, without any conviction in the ordinary course of judicial proceedings. If an act inflicts a milder degree of punishment than death, it is called a bill of pains and penalties, but both are included in the prohibition in the Constitution (Art. I, Sec. 9).

The term attainder is derived from attincta, Latin for stained or blackened. When attainder occurred, the condemned person was considered to bear a mark of infamy that corrupted his or her blood. Attainder was eventually abolished in England by statute.In the United States, attainder is scarcely known today, although several states enacted acts of attainder during the Revolutionary War period. A few states consider the disqualification of a person impeached and convicted to hold any government office to be a type of attainder. Attainder is akin to the concept of civil death, the forefeiture of certain rights and privileges upon conviction of a serious crime.


formerly the extinction of a person's civil rights resulting from a sentence of death or outlawry on conviction for treason or felony; an obsolete procedure not unlike IMPEACHMENT.

ATTAINDER, English criminal law. Attinctura, the stain or corruption of blood which arises from being condemned for any crime.
     2. Attainder by confession, is either by pleading guilty at the bar before the judges, and not putting one's self on one's trial by a jury; or before the coroner in sanctuary, when in ancient times, the offender was obliged to abjure the realm.
     3. Attainder by verdict, is when the prisoner at the bar pleads not guilty to the indictment, and is pronounced guilty by the verdict of the jury.
     4. Attainder by process or outlawry, is when the party flies, and is subsequently outlawed. Co. Lit. 391.
     5. Bill of attainder, is a bill brought into parliament for attainting persons condemned for high treason. By the constitution of the United States, art. 1, sect. 9, Sec. 3, it is provided that no bill of attainder or ex post facto law shall be passed.

References in periodicals archive ?
Bills of attainder were repugnant to the Founders because they amounted to the legislature--or, under the death warrant theory, the President--usurping the courts' role in judging an individual's guilt and determining the appropriate punishment.
Jefferson subsequently defended bills of attainder in a letter of 1815:
303) The distinction between these two types of legislative actions is paramount;(304) the Framers regarded Bills of Attainder as especially egregious to a fundamental notion of justice, and as such, implicates all of the reasons the framers promulgated the Ex Post Facto Clause.
Concern over retroactive legislation is evident elsewhere in Article I, which also prohibits bills of attainder in two different sections.
prohibits the enactment of bills of attainder or ex post facto laws
That instrument contains no provision against private acts enacted by the federal government except for a prohibition of bills of attainder and grants of nobility.
Originally, bills of attainder were used to seize property from named individuals, to prevent them from inheriting property or to ensure that no one inherited from them--a condition known as "corruption of blood" (Taylor 1907).
Bills of attainder, ex post facto laws, and laws impairing the obligation of contracts, are contrary to the first principles of the social compact and to every principle of sound legislation.
303, 315-16 (1946) ("[L]egislative acts, no matter what their form, that apply either to named individuals or to easily ascertainable members of a group in such a way as to inflict punishment on them without a judicial trial are bills of attainder prohibited by the Constitution.
In contesting a challenge to the prosecution based on the prohibition of bills of attainder, the government argued that the intent of the statute was remedial and preventative, rather than retributive, in that Congress was not punishing members of the Communist Party; rather it was preventing them from creating future harm in unions.
Constitution, bills of attainder include bills of pains and
8, 1788), in 15 DOCUMENTARY HISTORY 284, 285 (pointing to prohibitions on the suspension of habeas corpus, ex post facto laws, bills of attainder, titles of nobility, and payment from Treasury without appropriation as powers that must have been in the power of Congress by implication because they are specifically prohibited); Brutus II, NEW YORK JOURNAL (Nov.