Salmoneus wrote:Deodand - a thing that has caused the death of a person, and that is therefore to be forfeited to God (or to the earthly authorities, who donate the thing or its value to a religious cause). Deodands were abolished in English law in 1846, in order to protect the railway companies.
Not guns ? I'm guessing justifiable homicide was n exception or all guns would be single use implements. Gunz'a are a big probelm in USA and some want to sue the gun companies when somebody dies by accident after being shot. But I've never heard of blaming the gun itself for the killing.
Deodand is mostly a mediaeval thing, as I understand it. By the time firearms became widely held, and when they were legal (they were periodically restricted in various ways), deodand wasn't an automatic process, but a legal recourse that could be sought if needed. In case of gun homicides (which I think have always been rare here)*, prosecution would be for murder or manslaughter, and deodand wouldn't normally have been worth seeking. However, in the case of something like a railway accident, where neither malice nor necessarily any specific negligence by any specific individual could be proven, deodand was seen as potentially a way to get compensation, or at least vengeance, from the railway company without having to meet an unmeetable standard of criminal proof. Deodand was ended at the same time that formal compensation schemes were begun.
[and i'm not actually sure that deodand can apply to actual weapons, where the 'guilt' lies with the user]
It may seem a strange superstition, but it's actually a very clever idea. In its pure form (the item is actually confiscated), it fulfills several useful functions at once:
- it acts as a quality inspection law to aid health and safety. This seems to be behind the English rule that deodand applied to stationary objects only if the deceased was an adult. So, if a child falls off a cart, that's their fault for being an idiot, but if a sensible adult falls off a cart and dies, that might indicate something unsafe about the cart. So, deodand can get dangerous vehicles, buildings, machines, animals, etc, out of circulation.
- the threat of deodand acts to encourage property owners to institute their own health and safety procedures. If your cart might be confiscated if your carter falls off it and dies, not only do you try to make sure your cart isn't dangerous, but you also make sure the carter knows what they're doing on it.
- it can punish the wilfully neglectful without the need to prove guilt. Older legal systems were much more hesitant about ideas like "negligence" and the like, generally requiring specific, active guilt to be proven, which often wasn't possible. Deodand - attacking the item rather than the owner, in theory - is a way to get around that restriction. If your horse runs through town loose and kills someone, it may be hard to prove that you specifically did something 'wrong' - but if the government takes your horse anyway, you loose out, creating a deterrant: so that not only do you try not to do anythign provably 'wrong', you actually take steps to prevent accidents.
*currently death by gun is approximately 5,000% more likely in the US than in the UK.