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Judicial murder is the unjustified use of capital punishment. The Oxford English Dictionary describes it as "death inflicted by process of law, capital punishment, esp. considered to be unjust or cruel".[1]

An early use of the term occurs in Northleigh's Natural Allegiance of 1688; "He would willingly make this Proceeding against the Knight but a sort of Judicial Murder".[2]

In 1777 Voltaire used the comparable term of assassins juridiques ("judicial murderers").

The term was used in German (Justizmord) in 1782 by August Ludwig von Schlözer in reference to the execution of Anna Göldi. In a footnote, he explains the term as

"the murder of an innocent, deliberately, and with all the pomp of holy Justice, perpetrated by people installed to prevent murder, or, if a murder has occurred, to see to it that it is punished appropriately."[3]

In 1932, the term is also used by Justice Sutherland in Powell v. Alabama when establishing the right to a court-appointed attorney in all capital cases:

Let us suppose the extreme case of a prisoner charged with a capital offense who is deaf and dumb, illiterate and feeble minded, unable to employ counsel, with the whole power of the state arrayed against him, prosecuted by counsel for the state without assignment of counsel for his defense, tried, convicted and sentenced to death. Such a result … if carried into execution, would be little short of judicial murder.

Hermann Mostar (1956) defends the extension of the term to un-premeditated miscarriages of justice where an innocent suffers the death penalty.[4]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Judicial murder at OED; retrieved 18 July 2018
  2. ^ J Northleigh, Natural allegiance, and a national protection, truly stated, being a full answer to Dr. G. Burnett's vindication of himself. vi. p37 (1688); quoted in OED
  3. ^ „Ermordung eines Unschuldigen, vorsätzlich, und so gar mit allem Pompe der heil. Justiz, verübt von Leuten, die gesetzt sind, daß sie verhüten sollen, daß ein Mord geschehe, oder falls er geschehen, doch gehörig gestraft werde.“ (von Schlözer, p. 273)
  4. ^ Hermann Mostar. Unschuldig verurteilt! Aus der Chronik der Justizmorde. Herbig-Verlag, Munich (1956)
  • August Ludwig von Schlözer: Abermaliger JustizMord in der Schweiz In: Stats-Anzeigen. Band 2. Göttingen, 1782. S. 273–277.
  • Julius Mühlfeld. Justizmorde. Nach amtlichen Quellen bearbeitete Auswahl 2. Auflage, Berlin (1880) OCLC 70475784
  • Bernt Ture von zur Mühlen. Napoleons Justizmord am deutschen Buchhändler Johann Philipp Palm. Frankfurt am Main: Braman Verlag (2003) ISBN 9783934054165

External linksEdit

  • Letter by Voltaire to Frederick II, April 1777[dead link]