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compurgation

compurgation (kŏm´pərgā´shən), in medieval law, a complete defense. A defendant could establish his innocence or nonliability by taking an oath and by getting a required number of persons to swear they believed his oath. Compurgation, also called wager of law, was found in early Germanic law and in English ecclesiastical law until the 17th cent. In common law it was substantially abolished as a defense in felonies by the Constitutions of Clarendon (1164). Compurgation was still permitted in civil actions for debt, however, and vestiges of it survived until its final abolition in 1833. It is doubtful whether compurgation ever existed in America.

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compurgation

compurgation or law-wager was an Anglo-Saxon defence against an accusation by bringing a number of persons to testify to one's innocence as character witnesses. The laws of King Ine laid down rules for the status of the compurgators and the number needed to answer to particular charges. The compurgators were not strictly witnesses nor jurymen, and the number varied, though was commonly twelve. The practice gradually fell into disuse after the Norman Conquest, though it survived for centuries in matters of debt. Clearly it contributed an element to the jury system which replaced it.

J. A. Cannon

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