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execution Capital punishment has, historically, been a mainstay of most systems of judicial punishment, although it is only recently that systematic work has been carried out by historians either on the incidence of the use of the death penalty, or on its broader cultural significance. If we confine ourselves to Europe in the late medieval and early modern periods, we find that at least initial studies have been completed on England, France, Amsterdam, and parts of Germany. The English and German evidence in particular suggests that levels of capital punishment rose in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and dropped in the later seventeenth and eighteenth, although both levels of execution and methods of killing varied enormously between individual territories. Perhaps more interestingly for the history of the body, it is possible to trace changes in the ceremonial of execution. The continental European evidence is perhaps more relevant here than the English: in England, condemned criminals were usually hanged, whereas in many continental states what were considered more atrocious crimes were followed by aggravated punishments. Perhaps the best documented of these is breaking on the wheel, where the condemned was tied by the arms and legs to a large wheel, the limbs being subsequently broken. Other refinements (rarely administered) were the tearing of the flesh of the condemned with red-hot pincers, the cutting off of hands, and the cutting out of tongues.

Obviously, study of both the actual practice of execution (public in most European states and in North America before the nineteenth century) and the symbolism and rituals attached to the phenomenon is of considerable interest to historians of the human body. Unfortunately, direct comment on this matter was rarely made by contemporaries, and the historian of such matters has usually to work by inference. It is therefore interesting to consider the remarkable commentary that the English judge and legal writer Sir Edward Coke (1552–1634) made on the punishment in England for male commoners convicted of High Treason, namely hanging, drawing, and quartering. Here the various elements of the punishment are directly related to contemporary ideas surrounding various parts of the human body.

The convicted person was dragged to the place of execution on a hurdle, and since ‘God hath made the head of man the highest and most supreme part, as being the chief grace and ornament’, Coke wrote that ‘he must be drawn with the head declining downward, and lying so near the ground as may be, being thought unfit to take the benefit of the common air’. The convicted man would then be hanged by the neck, but only briefly, before he could die, and was then ‘to have his privy parts cut off and burnt before his face as being unworthily begotten, and unfit to leave any generation after him’. After this, ‘his bowels and inlay'd parts’ were to be ‘taken out and burnt, who inwardly had conceived and harboured in his heart such horrible treason’ (it should be noted that every effort would be made to keep the convicted man alive and sensible up to this point). The traitor's head, ‘which had imagined the mischief’, would then be cut off, and, finally, his body would be quartered, ‘and the quarters set up in some high and eminent place, to the view and detestation of men, to become a prey for the fowls of the air’. It is instructive that Coke followed through this discussion of punishment in terms of the symbolism of body parts with a medical analogy: ‘and this is a reward due to traitors, whose hearts be hardened: for that it is a physic of state and government, to let out the corrupt blood from the heart’.

In England the usual means of capital punishment was hanging, which left the body more or less intact, and hence in good condition for the fate which awaited the bodies of many condemned criminals: dissection in the medical schools. Elizabethan legislation had allowed for a limited supply of such corpses to be made available for dissection, but the rising professional standards of the eighteenth-century physician made the legal supply insufficient, and a brisk trade developed in the bodies of the hanged until, in 1752, an act was passed making it easier for the bodies of executed murderers to be sent to the anatomy classes. Interestingly, fear that such a fate should attend the corpse of a convicted criminal frequently provoked crowd action, led by the relatives or friends of the deceased, who attempted to rescue the corpse in hopes of keeping it intact and giving it a decent burial. Here we see popular ideas about the body coming into direct conflict with official ones. It should also be remembered that the corpses of executed criminals were thought to have therapeutic powers, and that a touch from their hands was considered efficacious in curing illness or injuries. Moreover, the practice of gibbeting, that is leaving the corpses of especially heinous criminals to rot in public places (normally the location where the crime had been committed), was another way in which the body of the convicted would enter the domain of the general consciousness.

The folklore which surrounded executions was rendered redundant when, in the nineteenth century, most states began to carry out death sentences in private, while a few abolished the death penalty altogether. The causes and significance of this shift have given rise to considerable theorizing among historians, social scientists, philosophers, and commentators on penal policy. One of its central themes, however, has been that of changing attitudes to the human body, and, more particularly, changing sensibilities about the infliction of pain and suffering. But whether displayed on a public scaffold in the eighteenth century, or the result of a scientific killing within the confines of a modern prison, the body of the executed criminal remains a vivid and striking symbol of the power of the law.

J. A. Sharpe


See also killing.

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Execution

EXECUTION

The carrying out of some act or course of conduct to its completion. Incriminal law, the carrying out of a death sentence.

The process whereby an official, usually a sheriff, is directed by an appropriate judicial writ to seize and sell as much of a debtor's nonexempt property as is necessary to satisfy a court's monetary judgment.

With respect to contracts, the performance of all acts necessary to render a contract complete as an instrument, which conveys the concept that nothing remains to be done to make a complete and effective contract.

With regard to seizures of property, executions are authorized in any action or proceeding in which a monetary judgment is recoverable and in any other action or proceeding when authorized by statute. For example, the victim of a motor vehicle accident may institute a civil lawsuit seeking damages from another party. If the plaintiff wins the lawsuit and is awarded money from the defendant as a part of the verdict, the court may authorize an execution process to pay the debt to the plaintiff.

Ordinarily, execution is achieved through a legal device known as a writ of execution. The writ serves as proof of the property owed by the defendant, who is called the judgment debtor, to the plaintiff, or judgment creditor. The writ of execution commands an officer of the court, usually a sheriff, to take the property of the debtor to satisfy the debt. Ordinarily, a writ of execution cannot be issued until after an appropriate court issues a judgment or decree determining the rights and liabilities of the parties involved.

Any type of personal property is subject to seizure under an execution, provided existing laws do not prescribe specific exemptions. Such property may include jewelry, money, and stocks. In most states, real property, including land, is also subject to execution. intellectual property, which includes patents, copyrights, and trademarks, is generally immune to execution.

An execution on a judgment is typically issued by the clerk of the court in which the judgment was rendered. The clerk cannot issue an execution unless directed to do so by the judgment creditor or the judgment creditor's attorney. The time within which an execution must issue varies from one jurisdiction to another. The writ must be delivered to the sheriff or his or her deputy before it can properly be said that the writ has been issued.

The levy of the execution is the act by which the officer of the court appropriates the judgment debtor's property to satisfy the command of the writ. The levy must be made by an officer duly qualified to act under the terms of the writ. In most states, the judgment debtor has the right to select and indicate to the officer the property upon which the levy is to be made.

An execution creates a lien that gives the judgment creditor qualified control of the judgment debtor's property. In most jurisdictions, an execution lien binds all property, personal or real, that is subject to levy. It is sometimes called a general lien because it attaches to all the defendant's property.

After the sheriff has levied, it is her or his duty to sell the property seized. An execution sale is a sale of property by a sheriff as an officer acting under the writ of execution. An execution sale should be conducted so as to promote competition and obtain the best price. If necessary, the sheriff can employ an auctioneer as an agent to sell the property, in order to procure the most favorable price and to collect the proceeds.

Body Executions

Execution against a person is by writ of capias ad satisfaciendum (Latin for "to take the body to court to pay the debt"). Under this writ, the sheriff arrests and imprisons the defendant until the defendant satisfies the judgment or is discharged from doing so. Such an execution is not intended as punishment for failure to pay the judgment. It is permitted for the purpose of compelling the debtor to reveal property fraudulently withheld from his or her creditor and from which the judgment can be satisfied.

In most jurisdictions, defendants in lawsuits based on contracts are not subject to body executions unless they have committed fraud. Under the statutes in some jurisdictions, imprisonment for debt has been abolished entirely.

Statutes providing for the issuance of body executions to enforce judgments handed down in civil suits ordinarily do not conflict with provisions against imprisonment for debt. Among the civil, or tort, actions in which the writ is generally allowed are those involving fraud or deceit, and those for neglect or misconduct in office or professional employment. A body execution is also generally proper in actions to recover for injuries to person or reputation, including libel and slander, and in actions to recover for malicious prosecution.

further readings

Gridley, Doreen J. 1995. "The Immunity of Intangible Assets from a Writ of Execution." Indiana Law Review 28.

cross-references

Capital Punishment.

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Execution

233. Execution

  1. Budd, Billy court-martialed and hanged for accidently killing a ships officer. [Am. Lit.: Herman Melville Billy Budd ]
  2. cigarette final favor granted one about to die. [Pop. Cult.: Misc.]
  3. Deever, Danny hanged by his regiment for shooting a comrade. [Br. Lit.: Kipling Danny Deever in Benét, 549]
  4. Derrick famous hangman; eponym of modern hoisting apparatus. [Br. Hist.: Espy, 170]
  5. Doeg the Edomite dispatches priests of Nob under Sauls order. [O.T.: I Samuel 22:1819]
  6. Esmerelda her hanging is triumphantly watched from a tower by Frollo, who is thereupon thrown from it by Quasimodo. [Fr. Lit.: Victor Hugo The Hunchback of Notre Dame ]
  7. guillotine invented during French Revolution as a humane method of capital punishment. [Fr. Hist.: Benét, 429]
  8. hangmans noose characteristic knot for death by hanging. [Pop. Cult.: Misc.]
  9. Ko-Ko appointed by the Mikado as Lord High Executioner. [Br. Opera: The Mikado ]
  10. Lord of the Manor of Tyburn nickname for ordinary hangman at Tyburn gallows. [Br. Hist.: Brewer Dictionary, 1110]
  11. Macheath, Capt. swaggering highwayman sentenced to execution but reprieved at the last moment. [Br. Lit.: The Beggars Opera in Magill I, 59; The Threepenny Opera in Benét, 90]
  12. Maximilian, Emperor of Mexico executed in 1867; subject of painting by Manet. [Mex. Hist.: NCE, 1728; Fr. Art: EB, 11:440]
  13. Savonarola (14521498) reformer priest, hanged and burned at the stake as a heretic. [Ital. Hist.: Benét, 900]
  14. Seven That Were Hanged, The describes the fears and actions of five men and two women before their deaths on the scaffold. [Russ. Lit.: Magill II, 957]
  15. Sorel, Julien attempts to kill his employers wife, (his mistress), is condemned to the guillotine. [Fr. Lit.: Stendhal The Red and the Black in Magill I, 808]
  16. Third of May, 1808, The Goya painting of Napoleons soldiers firing on Spanish rebels. [Sp. Art: EB, 8:260]
  17. Tyburn site of gallows where criminals were publicly hanged. [Br. Hist.: Brewer Dictionary, 920]

Exile (See BANISHMENT .)

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execution

ex·e·cu·tion / ˌeksiˈkyoōshən/ • n. 1. the carrying out or putting into effect of a plan, order, or course of action: he was fascinated by the entire operation and its execution. ∎  the technique or style with which an artistic work is produced or carried out: the opera's creative execution. ∎  Law the putting into effect of a legal instrument or order. ∎  Law seizure of the property or person of a debtor in default of payment. ∎ Comput. the performance of an instruction or a program. 2. the carrying out of a sentence of death on a condemned person: the place of execution. ∎  the killing of someone as a political act.

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Execution

Execution

of officials: company of officersBk. of St. Albans, 1486.

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execution

executionashen, fashion, passion, ration •abstraction, action, attraction, benefaction, compaction, contraction, counteraction, diffraction, enaction, exaction, extraction, faction, fraction, interaction, liquefaction, malefaction, petrifaction, proaction, protraction, putrefaction, redaction, retroaction, satisfaction, stupefaction, subtraction, traction, transaction, tumefaction, vitrifaction •expansion, mansion, scansion, stanchion •sanction •caption, contraption •harshen, Martian •cession, discretion, freshen, session •abjection, affection, circumspection, collection, complexion, confection, connection, convection, correction, defection, deflection, dejection, detection, direction, ejection, election, erection, genuflection, imperfection, infection, inflection, injection, inspection, insurrection, interconnection, interjection, intersection, introspection, lection, misdirection, objection, perfection, predilection, projection, protection, refection, reflection, rejection, resurrection, retrospection, section, selection, subjection, transection, vivisection •exemption, pre-emption, redemption •abstention, apprehension, ascension, attention, circumvention, comprehension, condescension, contention, contravention, convention, declension, detention, dimension, dissension, extension, gentian, hypertension, hypotension, intention, intervention, invention, mention, misapprehension, obtention, pension, prehension, prevention, recension, retention, subvention, supervention, suspension, tension •conception, contraception, deception, exception, inception, interception, misconception, perception, reception •Übermenschen • subsection •ablation, aeration, agnation, Alsatian, Amerasian, Asian, aviation, cetacean, citation, conation, creation, Croatian, crustacean, curation, Dalmatian, delation, dilation, donation, duration, elation, fixation, Galatian, gyration, Haitian, halation, Horatian, ideation, illation, lavation, legation, libation, location, lunation, mutation, natation, nation, negation, notation, nutation, oblation, oration, ovation, potation, relation, rogation, rotation, Sarmatian, sedation, Serbo-Croatian, station, taxation, Thracian, vacation, vexation, vocation, zonation •accretion, Capetian, completion, concretion, deletion, depletion, Diocletian, excretion, Grecian, Helvetian, repletion, Rhodesian, secretion, suppletion, Tahitian, venetian •academician, addition, aesthetician (US esthetician), ambition, audition, beautician, clinician, coition, cosmetician, diagnostician, dialectician, dietitian, Domitian, edition, electrician, emission, fission, fruition, Hermitian, ignition, linguistician, logician, magician, mathematician, Mauritian, mechanician, metaphysician, mission, monition, mortician, munition, musician, obstetrician, omission, optician, paediatrician (US pediatrician), patrician, petition, Phoenician, physician, politician, position, rhetorician, sedition, statistician, suspicion, tactician, technician, theoretician, Titian, tuition, volition •addiction, affliction, benediction, constriction, conviction, crucifixion, depiction, dereliction, diction, eviction, fiction, friction, infliction, interdiction, jurisdiction, malediction, restriction, transfixion, valediction •distinction, extinction, intinction •ascription, circumscription, conscription, decryption, description, Egyptian, encryption, inscription, misdescription, prescription, subscription, superscription, transcription •proscription •concoction, decoction •adoption, option •abortion, apportion, caution, contortion, distortion, extortion, portion, proportion, retortion, torsion •auction •absorption, sorption •commotion, devotion, emotion, groschen, Laotian, locomotion, lotion, motion, notion, Nova Scotian, ocean, potion, promotion •ablution, absolution, allocution, attribution, circumlocution, circumvolution, Confucian, constitution, contribution, convolution, counter-revolution, destitution, dilution, diminution, distribution, electrocution, elocution, evolution, execution, institution, interlocution, irresolution, Lilliputian, locution, perlocution, persecution, pollution, prosecution, prostitution, restitution, retribution, Rosicrucian, solution, substitution, volution •cushion • resumption • München •pincushion •Belorussian, Prussian, Russian •abduction, conduction, construction, deduction, destruction, eduction, effluxion, induction, instruction, introduction, misconstruction, obstruction, production, reduction, ruction, seduction, suction, underproduction •avulsion, compulsion, convulsion, emulsion, expulsion, impulsion, propulsion, repulsion, revulsion •assumption, consumption, gumption, presumption •luncheon, scuncheon, truncheon •compunction, conjunction, dysfunction, expunction, function, junction, malfunction, multifunction, unction •abruption, corruption, disruption, eruption, interruption •T-junction • liposuction •animadversion, aspersion, assertion, aversion, Cistercian, coercion, conversion, desertion, disconcertion, dispersion, diversion, emersion, excursion, exertion, extroversion, immersion, incursion, insertion, interspersion, introversion, Persian, perversion, submersion, subversion, tertian, version •excerption

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