On Deodands and JFK Arcana

I came across this word ‘deodand’ in Leonard W. Levy’s License to Steal: The Forfeiture of Property (1996). I’m attaching the passage, which I found to be interesting and well written:

…The term”deodand” derives from the Latin phrase “deo dandum” and means “given to God”. A deodand is a thing forfeited, presumably to God for the good of the community, but in reality to the English crown. Deodands are commonly attributed, especially by courts, to a passage in the Bible: “If an ox gore a man or a woman that they die, the ox shall be surely stoned and its flesh shall not be eaten” (Exodus 21:28).

The case in which this statement appears has the silly byt revealing name of United States v. One 1963 Cadillac Coupe de Ville Two Door. That is, the government sued the automobile as if it were personally guilty of a crime. In an especially strange case, United States v. One 6.5 mm. Mannlicher-Carcano Military Rifle, the government sued the rifle that was used to assassinate President John F. Kennedy, on the theory that it was “a species of Deodands”….

Here is the wiki for deodands. Here is a poem from Pulitizer laureate Anthony Hecht titled “The Deodand“. Here is Sir William Blackstone explaining the concept in Volume 1 of the Commentaries on the Laws of England. A google search for the word provides 126,000 results.


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