Records indicate that trials of animals - usually for killing human beings - took place throughout Europe and elsewhere from the ninth through the nineteenth centuries. The historical evidence indicates that communities viewed these trials seriously. If we can understand what social benefits the trials brought to the people of these towns, we may begin to see that trials even in our own time fulfill cultural needs that extend far beyond dispute resolution and adjudication.
This Note explores how an understanding of the social function of trials may allow us to rethink their value in contemporary society. This Note describes the history of the animal trials in Europe and reveals that animal trials took place against the backdrop of a widespread societal debate concerning how best to explain and understand chaotic and destructive events caused by nonhuman actors. This Note also uses the trials of animals and inanimate objects as case studies in a more speculative and theoretical analysis of the role and function of trials within a society. Far from being a quaint historical curiosity, the animal trials may provide important insights for our own legal system.
Paul Schiff Berman, Rats, Pigs, and Statues on Trial: The Creation of Cultural Narratives in the Prosecution of Animals and Inanimate Objects, 69 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 288 (1994).