Sunday, 2 October 2016

mea culpa or presumption of guilt

Though in the Middle Ages one could defend their good character by assembling a jury of twelve of one’s peers that would attest unanimously under oath that the accused could not have possibly committed the act that he or she (or it with animals often subpoenaed), there was no concept of presumed innocent and the burden of proof was squarely on the charged.
The word culprit is a quirky portmanteaux word dating from times when the courts were becoming more formalised affairs, complete with a proper court recorder. Each docket in England and France began with the same plea of the accused—not guilty, or rather [not] culpable, to which the clerk would reply: [as charged] Prest, d’averrer nostre bille. A call and response that was a mixture of Latin and Old French that signified that the court was ready to present its case. It was abbreviated in the proceedings as cul: prit and became synonymous with the person of the defendant.