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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.

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 ?
(61) The dissenting opinion illustrates how expansive the majority's interpretation of the clauses actually was, spending four and a half pages (62) describing the history of bills of attainder and how the rogue provisions (63) at issue in both cases "can in no sense be called bills of attainder." (64) Yet, the dissenters advanced an extremely narrow view of the Bill of Attainder Clause, applying it to only those acts that specifically name or describe individuals (65) and call for the death penalty based on a "corruption of blood." (66) Thus, the dissenters ignored prior dicta defining the clauses' scope beyond such legislative death sentences (67) and stated that because there was no American authority on point, the English definition controlled.
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.
This understanding of the ban on bills of attainder highlights yet again how the modern interpretation of the due process/takings clause is in error.
prohibits the enactment of bills of attainder or ex post facto laws
to the Constitution's prohibitions of bills of attainder. (136) In
Thus, the author of this book discusses not only the origins of parts of the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments (the Establishment and the Free Press clauses for the First; the right against unreasonable searches and seizures for the Fourth; and the right against self-incrimination, the prohibition against double jeopardy, and the requirement of a grand jury for the Fifth) and all of the Second, Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth Amendments, but he also considers the basis for the habeas corpus requirement and the prohibition against bills of attainder in Article I of the Constitution.
pass any bill of attainder, ex post facto law, or law impairing the obligation of contracts."(13) The framers of the Constitution drafted this clause in order to restrain State legislatures from acts of injustice against citizens, in both criminal and civil matters.(14) In particular, the framers were concerned with the power of the Parliament of Great Britain to pass bills of attainder and bills of "pains and penalties" specifically against individuals or classes of individuals.
In fact, Levy notes, the anti-Federalists had it right all along: "In sum, the usually masterful politicians who had dominated the convention had blundered by botching constitutional theory and making a serious political error" The Philadelphia delegates had protected some rights in the text of the Constitution--for example, ensuring trial by jury, banning bills of attainder, and prohibiting religious tests for federal office.
The standard approach seems to be simply to ignore Madison's failure, leaving it implicit that, for example, Congress may not enforce Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment with bills of attainder. Although such a limitation on Congress may seem obvious, problems can arise in this context.
75 without the concurrence of Congress (3) violates the due process clause and exclusive authority of the courts to issue warrants of arrest when it directed the arrest of Trillanes (4) violates the constitutional prohibition on "ex post facto laws and bills of attainder" because it abrogated an amnesty grant and recriminalizes what has been decriminalized and effectively punishes Trillanes without trial and (5) violates the equal protection clause because it singles out and targets Trillanes, even as there are others who are and may be similarly situated.
common law, the only punishment inflicted by bills of attainder was a
(12.) Although it is beyond the scope of this article to analyze and offer conclusions about whether Terri's Law is constitutional, there are a number of potential infirmities that warrant consideration, including those related to the Tenth Amendment/federalism principles, separation of powers, the equal protection clause, prohibitions against bills of attainder and ex post facto laws, and interference with the right to refuse unwanted medical treatment (see, e.g., Cruzan v.