Bill of Attainder

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  • An act that declares a person “attainted,” or guilty of a crime, without the benefit of a trial. The U.S. Constitution under Article 1, Sections 9 and 10 prohibits Congress or state legislatures from passing bills of attainders. The drafters of the Consti tution considered these bills to be an abuse of power of the British monarchy. Technically, bills of attainder under British law only refer to crimes for which the penalty is death. Anything less than death was handled by bills of “pains and penalties.” It was decided by the Supreme Court in Fletcher v. Peck (1810) that bills of attainder should include bills of pains and penalties under the U.S. Constitution. For more information, see Fletcher v. Peck (1810).


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