Fama, Notoriety, and Due Process in Late Medieval Reggio Emilia

Friday, January 8, 2016: 10:50 AM
Grand Ballroom C (Hilton Atlanta)
Joanna J. Carraway Vitiello, Rockhurst University
Fama, Notoriety, and Due Process in Late Medieval Reggio Emilia

This paper explores the relationship between due process, fama and notoriety in the criminal court at Reggio Emilia. The importance of fama, or reputation, to medieval law is well established, though its role in shaping procedure varied over time and location. At Reggio, there is no indication that mala fama procedurally disadvantaged the defendant. In fact, the designation of mala fama in the libellus does not appear to correlate to a significant increase in conviction rates, but it does correlate to an increased use of corporal punishment, and the designation of mala fama to describe a defendant in the libellus may indicate those who were believed to present a public menance. Still, at Reggio, due process governed inquisitorial trials regardless of the defendant's fama. In particular circumstances, however, due process was set aside for the punishment of crimes considered notorious. This extremely problematic category of criminal proceeding was carefully circumscribed by jurists like Durantis, who were concerned about the potential abuse of such a profound abridgment of a person's right to a defense.

Because summary proceedings against notorious defendants did not require a written account, this category is very difficult to investigate. However, the fragmentary evidence that survives at Reggio for this process suggests that its implementation did not always conform to procedural literature. It was not used in every circumstance that would have allowed it, but it was used in cases that jurists like Durantis would have disallowed. Inquisition procedure provided protective measures for defendants, but this was only one of the processes available to the judge. A nuanced picture of medieval justice also includes extraordinary procedures that contained no such protection.