Assistant Professor Elizabeth Papp Kamali’s book “Felony and the Guilty Mind in Medieval England” was the subject of a recent talk and discussion hosted by the Harvard Law School Library, part of a regular series that features books by faculty, alumni and other scholars affiliated with the university and beyond.
Kamali’s book explores the role of mens rea, broadly defined as a factor in jury assessments of guilt and innocence from the early thirteenth through the fourteenth century—the first two centuries of the English criminal trial jury.
Drawing upon evidence from the plea rolls, but also relying heavily upon non-legal textual sources such as popular literature and guides for confessors, Elizabeth Papp Kamali argues that issues of mind were central to jurors’ determinations of whether a particular defendant should be convicted, pardoned, or acquitted outright. Demonstrating that the word ‘felony’ itself connoted a guilty state of mind, she explores the interplay between social conceptions of guilt and innocence and jury behavior. Furthermore, she reveals a medieval understanding of felony that involved, in its paradigmatic form, three essential elements: an act that was reasoned, was willed in a way not constrained by necessity, and was evil or wicked in its essence.
Kamali was joined by colleagues Charles Donahue, Jr., Paul A. Freund Professor Law at Harvard Law School; Intisar A. Rabb, professor of law and history, and faculty director of the HLS Program in Islamic Law; and Nicholas Watson, the Henry B. and Anne M. Cabot Professor of English Literature at Harvard University.