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The Death Sentence in Scots Law

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Includes a dictionary of plant foods. The future author's father, a retired surgeon with a stern and rigid personality, arranged for his son to train for a career as a military engineer. Dostoevsky, however, had always been drawn to gothic and Romantic literature and longed to try his hand as a writer. Despite graduating from the Academy of Military Engineering in St.

Petersburg in and achieving the rank of sublieutenant, Dostoevsky resigned to devote himself completely to his craft. In , Dostoevsky published his first novella, Poor Folk.

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Told through letters that a poor clerk exchanges with his love, an equally poor girl who has agreed to marry a worthless but rich suitor, the story describes the grinding psychological strain of poverty. Dostoevsky gave a copy to a friend, who showed it to the poet Nikolay Nekrasov. Both were floored by the volume's depth and emotional pull, and immediately brought the book to the attention of Vissarion Belinsky, Russia's leading literary critic. Belinsky anointed Dostoevsky as the next great Russian talent. Around the time that he wrote Poor Folk , Dostoevsky began attending discussions with other young intellectuals about socialism, politics, and serfdom , the Russian system that kept rural laborers under the control of rich landowners.

In , Dostoevsky and other members of the discussion group were arrested on suspicion of revolutionary activity. He spent months in a wretched prison, and then was taken out to a public square to be shot. At the last moment, a pardon was delivered from the Tsar; the whole charade had been part of the punishment. The experience had a profound effect on him, reaffirming his deep religious beliefs and inspiring the moral questions raised in Crime and Punishment. Proportion of offenders capitally convicted for murder executed.

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When investigating the crime of murder, an analysis of the victims and their relationship to the perpetrator can offer a valuable insight into the circumstances surrounding the commission of the offence in Scotland. In his study of homicide in eighteenth-century Scotland, Knox based his findings upon evidence gathered from indicted cases between and In 31 of the cases the victim was their wife and most killings had occurred within the confines of the home.

Chapter 4 will provide a more extensive analysis of the capital punishment of Scottish female murderers, including those convicted of infanticide. Women accounted for an overwhelming majority of the total perpetrators brought before the Scottish courts for the crime of child murder, as in other European countries, and there were discernible similarities in several cases, notably the fact that the victim was an illegitimate infant.

For example, seven men were executed for the murder of a lover and in most instances the woman had either recently given birth to an illegitimate child or had revealed a pregnancy, and in one case the child was also murdered. She was six months pregnant with his child when he gave her muriate of mercury with the intention of aborting the child. Although in his defence he claimed that he had only tried to conceal her shame in procuring the poison for her, he was capitally convicted.

Similar motivations can be found in the cases of the five men who were executed for the murder of their own child, all of whom appeared to have been illegitimate. Unlike in some of the cases examined in this study, where young, single women had killed their illegitimate child, there was no apparent sympathy for these men and their desire to conceal an affair or to avoid taking financial responsibility for their child served to further aggravate their guilt.

Chapter 4 will demonstrate that women were rarely capitally convicted for the murder of wider acquaintances or strangers and their crimes were almost exclusively committed against close relatives and their children.

Before the Law

This is largely reflective of the predominantly domestic roles of women in this period, either as wives and mothers in their own homes, or as domestic servants. In over half of these cases the murders had been linked to or charged along with property offences such as theft and robbery which served to aggravate their case in the eyes of the courts.

In some, premeditation was evident due to the location of the crimes, being upon roads or less-frequented areas. The body was left in a mass of woodland and was not discovered for seven weeks due to the remoteness of the location.

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The remaining cases of male murderers were predominantly made up of drunken disputes or followed fights between the victim and the murderer who were, in some cases, work colleagues and friends. In cases of murder, intent, often referred to as malice in the court records, had to be proven to achieve a murder conviction, rather than the lesser and non-capital crime of culpable homicide. In terms of murders committed by men where the victims were also men, especially those that occurred during fights, there were often debates surrounding the issue of provocation and the proving of premeditation.

If it was proven that the accused had started the fight, the charge would be murder rather than culpable homicide. In George Lindsay was executed after he and John Allan had publicly argued and when Lindsay returned to the place where they both lived he picked up a knife and waited for Allan to return before stabbing him. Instead, their crime was proven to have been pre-meditated as they had left the initial fight to procure a lethal weapon. However, the use of capital punishment against property offenders was not subject to the same level of consistency.

Indeed, there were notable fluctuations not only in the sheer number of offenders who suffered the death sentence for their crimes but also in the legal and public responses to certain types of property crime at different intervals. During the period — property offences accounted for Although the sheer numbers were less, the proportion of capitally convicted property offenders who were women was comparable to the figure found in England.

As previously established, capital convictions for murder were statistically more likely to result in an execution see Tables 2. Comparatively, Table 2. For example, Proportion of offenders capitally convicted for property offences executed. Although this study focuses primarily upon the cases that made it before the central criminal courts and resulted in capital convictions, it also explores the role of discretion in deciding who faced a capital charge for property offences, particularly on the part of the judges and the prosecution.

As the accused was able to petition the court prior to the start of potentially capital trials, and the judges could exercise discretion in restricting the libel before the jury was sworn in, offenders would not always face a capital punishment even if the jury returned a guilty verdict.

In addition, Table 2. The role of discretion in the decision-making process was more marked in cases of property offences than murder and could go some way to determining the level of capital punishment for certain property offences depending upon factors such as geographical context, the age and gender of offenders and the public discourse surrounding crime. Scotland did not have the number of capital statutes that existed in England at this time and the list of thefts punishable by death in virtue of special statutes was very short in comparison.

In addition, Hume argued that, as theft was not a crime of one invariable character, the Scottish judges had a great degree of discretion in deciding upon suitable punishments based upon individual circumstances. Despite this, executions for the crime were still relatively low with only 12 in this period. However, in the case of Kenneth Leal in , exemplary punishment was used as he was executed and hung in chains at the spot where he robbed a post boy.


However, there were only three capital convictions of women for the crime and they were all subsequently conditionally pardoned. Housebreaking was the most frequent aggravation of theft and was capital regardless of the value of the items stolen throughout much of this period, unless the level of punishment had been restricted prior to the commencement of the trial.

The crime of housebreaking and theft, as charged in the courts, made up about one fifth of the total executions in this period and almost one third of the total executions for property offences. However, due to the potential for judicial discretion in allowing the accused to petition the court or for the court to restrict the libel before the start of the trial, hundreds of offenders avoided facing a capital punishment.

At times of increased executions, notably the s, capital convictions for the crime of housebreaking and theft increased. The outbreak of the American War of Independence — ended the penal option of transporting offenders to America and the British government did not immediately decide upon Australia as an alternative destination. The chapter will also demonstrate that there was not a desire to send unprecedented numbers to the scaffold and that the proportion of capitally convicted property offenders who were executed remained relatively consistent.


In Henry Fielding warned of the frequency of the crime in London and stated that, if unchecked, the already flagrant increase in robberies would be liable to reach even greater heights. The men petitioned the court, which was consented to by the Advocate Depute, and they were banished to America for life instead of standing trial and facing a capital punishment. The reluctance to pursue a capital charge for some offenders in Scotland is comparable to practices in Wales where both petty and grand juries made marked efforts to prevent offenders being found guilty of robbery indictments.

Therefore, in the wider British context, Scottish responses to robbery in the mid-eighteenth century, with the notable caveat of the Highlands, reinforce the centre—periphery dichotomy established by King and Ward in their study of the capital punishment of property offences. The number of executions for robbery had been relatively low until the s, especially when compared to England, and there was at least a degree of awareness of this, as evidenced in the above case.

However, by the second decade of the nineteenth century, robbery had become a greater concern in the Scottish courts and the newspapers, a topic that will be further discussed in Chap. By the early nineteenth century this had fallen to 8. Chapter 3 will examine this continued high proportion of executions to capital convictions in more detail and present some potential explanations for it.

There were 49 executions for theft of cattle, horses or sheep in this period. Fourteen of the cases occurred between and following trials before the Northern Circuit, this being the highest concentration of executions for the crime in any decade across this period. When breaking down the numbers of executions by decade, those for cattle, horse or sheep theft present almost a reverse pattern to the figures for other property offences, notably robbery, as there were only seven people executed for the crime following the turn of the nineteenth century.

Towards the end of the eighteenth century the charges were often restricted to a lesser offence and thus not punished capitally. For example, in Inverness in May , three men had been indicted for cattle theft but were found guilty only of slaughtering the cows in question. The total number of people charged with various forms of theft, including that of horses and cattle as well as theft aggravated by housebreaking, was However, in all but 24 of these cases, the charge was restricted so the criminal would not face a capital trial.

However, what is clear is that the figures demonstrate the importance of the discretionary power of the courts, particularly that of the judges, to limit the level of punishment meted out. In England, upwards of 60 capital statutes were passed in the eighteenth century related to the crime of forgery.

In turn, there were only 26 men executed for the crime of forgery in Scotland in this period and a further 18 men and two women who had been capitally convicted for the crime but subsequently pardoned. Comparatively, in England between and , Emsley gathered the figures for London and Middlesex as well as the Home Counties, Western and Norfolk circuits and found that people were capitally convicted for forgery and, of these, were executed.

However, this was refused and he was found guilty and sentenced to be executed in Stirling in March He further asserted that forgery was as much a capital crime in Scotland as in England and called for an example to be made with his execution. There were two main aggravations evident in cases where offenders were capitally punished for the crime of forgery. The first was the magnitude of the crime. David Reid had forged Bank of Scotland notes and uttered them in various areas including Edinburgh, Dumfries, Kirkcudbright and Wigtown in Although the jury only found him guilty of one of the charges, when passing the death sentence Lord Gillies stated that even if the prisoner had issued only one forged note, it was the same as if he had issued 50 of them.

In cases of forgery, unlike in most other crimes, if a person was educated, a man of property, or held a position of trust their offence was aggravated. William Evans had been an overseer on the estate of the Duke of Portland before his execution in for forging bills of exchange.