Sébastien Annen

Defending the indefensible. Atrocious crimes and miscarriages of justice in France during the Age of Enlightenment

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This article examines the arguments used in the 18th century by the defence lawyers of those who had been convicted of atrocious crimes but were victims of a miscarriage of justice. These extreme cases, which appeared indefensible until the final recognition of innocence, make it possible to examine the complexity of the pleadings printed in the public arena and addressed to the Privy Council of the King of France. However, these publications, which deconstructed the incriminating evidence, were far from being limited to a strictly legal dimension. They rebuilt the integrity of those convicted and confirmed that these atrocious crimes had no precedent in history and, above all, went against nature. The defence lawyers thus ended by blocking the ontological possibility of the atrocious crimes - which could not be committed or thought of - in order to confirm the obvious innocence of those convicted. These arguments fuelled 18th century debates on philanthropy and the demand for justice.

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