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    This paper interprets the presumption of innocence as a conceptual antidote for sacrificial tendencies in criminal law. Using Girard’s philosophy of scapegoat mechanisms and sacrifice as hermeneutical framework, the consanguinity of legal and sacrificial order is explored. We argue that some legal concepts found in the ius commune’s criminal system (12th-18th century), like torture, infamy, or punishment for mere suspicion, are affiliated with scapegoat dynamics and operate, to some extent, in the spirit of sacrifice. By indicating how these concepts entail more or less flagrant breaches of our contemporary conception of due process molded by the presumption of innocence, an antithesis emerges between the presumption of innocence and sacrificial inclinations in criminal law. Furthermore, when facing fundamental threats like heresy, the ius commune’s due process could be suspended. What emerges in this state of exception allowing for swift and relentless repression, is elucidated as legal order’s sacrificial infrastructure.


Rafael Van Damme
Rafael Van Damme is PhD-student in philosophy.
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