benefit of clergy

Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Encyclopedia, Wikipedia.
Related to benefit of clergy: Privilegium clericale

Benefit of Clergy

In old England, the privilege of clergy that allowed them to avoid trial by all courts of the civil government.

Originally members of the clergy were exempted from Capital Punishment upon conviction of particular crimes based on this privilege, but it did not encompass crimes of either high Treason or misdemeanors.

Benefit of clergy existed to alleviate the severity of criminal laws as applied to the clergy. It was, however, found to promote such extensive abuses that it was ultimately eliminated. Benefit of clergy does not exist in the United States today.

The phrase "without the benefit of clergy" is used colloquially to describe a couple living together outside a legal marriage.

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

benefit of clergy

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

BENEFIT OF CLERGY, English law. An exemption of the punishment of death which the laws impose on the commission of certain crimes, on the culprit demanding it. By modern statute's, benefit of clergy was rather a substitution of a more mild punishment for the punishment of death.
     2. It was lately granted, not only to the clergy, as was formerly the case, but to all persons. The benefit of clergy seems never to have been extended to the crime of high treason, nor to have embraced misdemeanors inferior to felony. Vide 1 Chit. Cr. Law, 667 to 668 4 Bl. Com. ch. 28. But this privilege improperly given to the clergy, because they had more learning than others) is now abolished by stat. 7 Geo. IV. c. 28, s. 6.
     3. By the Act of Congress of April 30, 1790, it is provided, Sec. 30, that the benefit of clergy shall not be used or allowed, upon conviction of any crime, for which, by any statute of the United States, the punishment is, or shall be declared to be, death.

A Law Dictionary, Adapted to the Constitution and Laws of the United States. By John Bouvier. Published 1856.
References in periodicals archive ?
It has frequently been noted that benefit of clergy and benefit of sanctuary were analogous practices.(50) Older accounts tended to treat both as rather hideous abuses of medieval ecclesiastical privilege.
Cromwell himself may well have intended "the utter abolition of sanctuaries."(56) Nevertheless, the bill proposed in 1540 was much debated and became an act that still paid its homage to "the lawe of mercy."(57) In itself, it abolished neither sanctuary nor abjuration, but substituted civic for ecclesiastical protection, and brought the types of offences to which they were applicable firmly into line with the increasingly secularised benefit of clergy. Abjuration probably died out because it was no longer sufficiently attractive to the limited group of offenders to whom it was now available.
During his encroachments on secular liberties, Henry VIII had insisted that the ability to pardon was a prerogative to be shared with none.(63) Benefit of clergy had been adapted years earlier so that it was claimed after conviction -- defendants first had to place themselves upon the country and admit to the crown's right to try them and their offence.(64) Mercy must be seen to emanate from the king alone.
Two of these men had claimed benefit of clergy on their arrest for returning without license.
Gabel, Benefit of Clergy in England in the Later Middle Ages (Northampton, Mass., 1928-29), pp.122-25.
(54) The following removed both benefit of clergy and benefit of sanctuary from the same offences: 23 Henry VIII c.
In her valuable study of crime, Barbara Hanawalt showed that organized crime was widespread in fourteenth-century England; that there were clerics belonging to or hiring thuggish gangs to attack, extort, and rob; and that these clergy may have been in major orders (deacons or priests), or they may not have been clerics at all but laypersons who learned to read so that they could claim the benefit of clergy. If they were clerics, they were usually descended from the gentry.
Since Aberth acknowledges that de Lisle was not a typical magnate or bishop, since gang members were not clergy and never claimed benefit of clergy, and since de Lisle is the only churchman discussed, the word "churchmen" in the title promises more than is delivered.
Annihilation to so detestable a race can not otherwise be effected than by making every attempt of this abominable offence punishable with instant death, without benefit of clergy."