Lawyer taps Google Books, finds 18th century argument against death penalty

It’s amazing what you can find with Google Books. For instance, an argument against the death penalty.

Lawyers for convicted murderer Jody Lee Miles scoured Google’s wayback book machine and other Internet archives, stumbling upon an Italian nobleman named Cesare Beccaria, who according to The Sun suggested in a very old book “that capital punishment should be reserved for treasonous criminals.”

The nobleman is important, the paper notes, because Charles Carroll — he of Carrollton and a drafter of Maryland’s constitution — apparently picked up the book at Politics & Prose way back when and a sent a letter (not an e-mail) to a buddy saying he agreed with the nobleman on the death penalty.

Public defender Brian Saccenti cited the nobleman discovery in a Maryland Court of Appeals hearing this week, according to The Sun, adding that the nobleman’s theory, “appears in the state’s Declaration of Rights in an often-overlooked clause which reads, ‘sanguinary Laws ought to be avoided as far as it is consistent with the safety of the State.’”

Saccenti and his team spent months searching Internet databases to come up with defense. “We were looking for as many occasions when this phrase was used,” he told the paper.

He is apparently very thankful for the Internet, without which “I have no idea how you’d do this research,” he said.

You can read about the nobleman here and read his work here.

The nobleman argument comes amid an effort to repeal Maryland’s death penalty in this upcoming legislative session. Read about that here. Or waste the rest of your day poking around Google Books.

Michael Rosenwald is a reporter on the Post's local enterprise team. He writes about the intersection of technology, business and culture.

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