(redirected from bills of attainder)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus.
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 ?
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.
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.
The founders had a clear understanding that the ban on bills of attainder was specifically intended to protect property owners from egregious or arbitrary takings by the government--takings in which persons or groups were identified as wrongdoers worthy of censure, and who consequently lost their property without the benefit of any due process, public use or compensation.
to the Constitution's prohibitions of bills of attainder.
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.
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.
common law, the only punishment inflicted by bills of attainder was a
72) The relevant prohibitions in the United States Constitution are much narrower: bills of attainder and titles of nobility are unconstitutional, as are ex post facto laws.
In addition, it prohibited bills of attainder, ex-post facto laws, religious tests for federal office, and infringement of contracts.
Supreme Court has defined bills of attainder as legislative acts that inflict punishment on named individuals or members of an easily ascertainable group without a judicial trial (United States v.
The aim of real-world veil rules is simply to suppress the crudest instances of self-dealing and factional oppression--decisions that would be excluded on any plausibly impartial criterion for public choice, such as the retroactive punishment of political enemies, bills of attainder, or official self-dealing with regard to salaries and emoluments.