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Trial by Combat

Posted by Andrew Segal | Sep 11, 2017 | 0 Comments

Our legal system has struggled with various ways of resolving disputes. Prior to our modern trial by jury system, one way was simply letting folks duke it out in trial by combat. The last man standing was the winner in trial by combat. Of course, religious faith was heavily intertwined with the belief in trial by combat and it was believed that God would ordain a winner.

Still, when it came to a fight between someone the size of Andrea the giant versus someone the size of Pee-wee Herman, you do tend to wonder whether the results have less to do with divine intervention and more to do with genetic advantage. Historically, were different ways of dealing with these obvious discrepancies. Sometimes the battle would simply be called off in favor of a trial by jury. At other times, the parties could hire "a champion" that is somebody to fight the battle for them. When you hire a lawyer today you're basically hiring someone to do the fighting for you. Of course, in those days they fought with swords, not words. The cuts and blows received were fatal. Nowadays we lawyer usually don't suffer more than hurt feelings and paper cuts.

There were other ways of leveling the playing field. For example, if it was a woman versus a man, they might bury the man with waist and have one hand tied behind his back. He would fight the woman with a club. She could roam free and fight him with a bag of rocks.

Trial come by combat, continued for many years and became what we call the dual. Even Abraham Lincoln was challenged to a duel by a man named James Shields. Having been challenged Lincoln got to choose the weapons and the 6 foot four Abraham Lincoln wisely chose broad swords of the largest sizes. His opponent, Shields was only 5 feet nine. On the day of the duel, Lincoln swung his sword well above Shields in order to cut through at nearby tree branch demonstrating both Lincolns enormous reach and strength. Shields realized his great disadvantage and with the encouragement of bystanders, wisely decided to call a truce.

As late as 2002 a man in England demanded a trial by combat after refusing to pay a penalty for a traffic ticket. He demanded a trial by combat and wanted to fight the clerk of court with either samurai swords gherkin knives or heavy hammers. I'm not sure how good a fighter the clerk of court was but for better or worse the court found that trial by combat was no longer recognized as an option and he was forced to pay his rather meager fine and was not given the option of a combat to the death.

Of course, if you do need to hire somebody to defend you in court were happy to do so. Our information is here:

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About the Author

Andrew Segal

Andrew Segal is a former judge and prosecutor who now represents the accused as a criminal defense attorney in Huntsville, Alabama, area courts. Andrew graduated cum laude from Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, in 1982. and Washington College of Law at American University in 1988.


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