June 17, 2014
Contact: University Relations
A research paper by Jeffrey K. Sawyer, the H. Mebane Turner Professor of Early American and American Constitutional History in the University of Baltimore's Yale Gordon College of Arts and Sciences, recently made the top 10 for downloads on the Social Science Research Network, after the classic 1990 article, first published in The American Journal of Legal History, was posted on the site. SSRN is a worldwide disseminator of scholarship in the humanities, law, management, sustainability and other fields.
Sawyer's paper, "'Benefit of Clergy' in Maryland and Virginia," examines a well-established criminal law procedure, in which a first-time offender about to be convicted of a felony and sentenced to hang instead could request this benefit, based on a medieval practice of transferring criminous clerics from the common law courts to the bishops' courts. Having received "benefit of clergy," the offender then would be branded with a letter, indicating his crime, such as "M" for "manslayer," and released without further punishment. But no repeat offenders were allowed to claim the benefit.
This happened to two British soldiers who were involved in the Boston Massacre of March 5, 1770. The two received convictions of manslaughter in a jury trial after the entire group of soldiers had been found not guilty of murder by the justices of the Superior Court of Massachusetts. Despite the guilty conviction, the soldiers' request for "benefit of clergy" was successful. According to Sawyer, the procedure was used throughout the colonies until after the Revolution, providing some leniency in an otherwise completely brutal system.
Laura Bryan, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, praised Sawyer's work and his SSRN ranking.
"Jeffrey Sawyer is an outstanding scholar and educator, and I am greatly pleased that his work is receiving national recognition," Bryan said. "His writing is clear and concise, and his findings enhance our understanding of colonial life, law and the search for justice."
Read an abstract of Sawyer's paper on the SSRN site.
The University of Baltimore is a member of the University System of Maryland and comprises the College of Public Affairs, the Merrick School of Business, the UB School of Law and the Yale Gordon College of Arts and Sciences.