Saturday, January 13, 2007

Benefit of Clergy

As part of my preparation for law school I am currently reading A History of American Law. I just finished the section on colonial law where I read about the benefit of clergy, which was a way of getting out of or reducing punishment for a crime. If you could read you could claim the "benefit of clergy", and you would be handed a bible, from which you read a specific verse. If you succeeded at this task then you would be treated with leniency. Apparently it was always the same passage, so you didn't really even have to know how to read.

Anyway, this was particularly interesting to me because I have done some research into my ancestry and my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Thomas Godbey (or Godby) -- one of, potentially, 8192 of my great*12-grandfathers -- was beaten to death by his neighbor William Bentley, and William Bentley apparently got off by claiming benefit of clergy. Isn't it great when something you read intersects with something you already know? And isn't that whole benefit of clergy thing wierd? According to the wikipedia page, it is possible that some states never formally abolished benefit of clergy, so it may remain technically available today. Somebody should find out, and try to claim it.

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