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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.

West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


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.
Collins Dictionary of Law © W.J. Stewart, 2006

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.

A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.
References in periodicals archive ?
The ban is a quintessential bill of attainder and a violation of due process.
The Constitution without the Bill of Rights amendments already protected the essential right to jury in criminal law, and prohibited ex post facto laws and bills of attainder. Indeed, much of the enacted Bill of Rights is criminal procedure safeguards that are of secondary importance to the prime right to trial by jury in criminal cases.
The technical meaning of terms in the Constitution, like "Bill of Attainder," also evolved because of normative concerns.
If the title should be denied him, there are other men of his family that would pretend title, not only to the honour, but also to lands of great value which fell to the Crown in England and Ireland upon the attainder of his grandfather 'by the policy of Cardinal Wolsey as it [is] set forth and played now upon the stage in London'; alleging that they have an ancient title before the attainder, which would not be convenient for her Majesty to be called in question, the same lands being disposed of [...]--25 July, 160[2], torn off.
A printed publication written during parliament's deliberations on the bill of attainder against Strafford articulated this strategy of finding his character in his carriage:
(143) The common law form of civil death was "attainder"; Lord Coke called the "attainted" offender "civiliter mortuus" (144) (civilly dead) and Blackstone called him "dead in law." (145) Attainder had three principal incidents: forfeiture (the offender lost his property), "corruption of blood" (which meant among other things that the offender could not give or receive inheritance), and the extinction of most or all of the offender's civil rights (including rights incident to having a legally recognized identity, like the right to sue or serve as a witness).
laws 'impairing the Obligation of Contracts.' The Fifth Amendment's Takings Clause prevents the Legislature (and other government actors) from depriving private persons of vested property rights except for a 'public use' and upon payment of 'just compensation.' The prohibitions on *1325 'Bills of Attainder' in Art.
It is already the case that the system of European Arrest Warrants, equivalent to the lettres de cachet of ancien regime Europe, can allow governments to collude in a give-and-take to procure the arrest and detention of anyone they do not like--thus introducing attainder, in effect, and arbitrary arrest.
An issue that OGC did not spot that turned out to be important was whether Section 271 of the Act was a bill of attainder. Bills of attainder are unconstitutional laws that single out persons for punishment, (9) and historically the only laws struck down as bills of attainder have been those punishing confederate supporters after the Civil War and communists during the height of the Cold War.
As the impeachment proceedings appeared about to collapse, Commons changed tactics and on April 21 passed a bill of attainder, 204 to 59, declaring Strafford's actions treason and condemning him to death.
Carried out in the first year of Queen Mary's reign, it followed on from the attainder (forfeiture of land because of treason) of John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland, who had come to be the lord of Birmingham.