In historical legal systems, an outlaw is declared as outside the protection of the law. In pre-modern societies, this takes the burden of active prosecution of a criminal from the authorities. Instead, the criminal is withdrawn all legal protection, so that anyone is legally empowered to persecute or kill them. Outlawry was thus one of the harshest penalties in the legal system. In early Germanic law, the death penalty is conspicuously absent, and outlawing is the most extreme punishment, presumably amounting to a death sentence in practice.

The concept is known from Roman law, as the status of homo sacer, and persisted throughout the Middle Ages.

Outlawry was a principally pre-Magna Carta phenomenon. It was by virtue of the Magna Carta that the legal precepts due process and habeas corpus were concurrently established in 1214 thus commencing with their eventual enshrinement in judicial procedures which required that persons suspected of crimes are required to be judged in a court of law before punishment can be legally rendered. However antiquated, forms of outlawry continue to exist.

In the common law of England, a "Writ of Outlawry" made the pronouncement Caput gerat lupinum ("Let his be a wolf's head," literally "May he bear a wolfish head") with respect to its subject, using "head" to refer to the entire person (cf. "per capita") and equating that person with a wolf in the eyes of the law: Not only was the subject deprived of all legal rights of the law being outside of the "law", but others could kill him on sight as if he were a wolf or other wild animal. Women were declared "waived" rather than outlawed but it was effectively the same punishment.

Read more about Outlaw:  Outlawing As Political Weapon, Popular Usage, Alternate Use, Owlhoot Trail

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Famous quotes containing the word outlaw:

    The price on the wanted
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    and moody greenhorns were making me dance; while my mouth’s
    shooting iron got its chambers jammed.
    Ishmael Reed (b. 1938)

    It is better to have the power of self-protection than to depend on any man, whether he be the Governor in his chair of State, or the hunted outlaw wandering through the night, hungry and cold and with murder in his heart.
    Lillie Devereux Blake (1835–1913)