Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Condign Definition:

As regards to punishment for crime; appropriate, fitting, deserved.

Related Terms: Sentence

A common term in the English language albeit not in popular usage, but once in frequent use in the law to refer to the appropriateness of a punishment.

The 1740 Slave Code of South Carolina included this article:

"And for the preventing the concealment of crimes and offences committed by slaves, and for the more effectual discovery and bringing slaves to condign punishment, be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that not only the evidence of all free Indians, without oath, but the evidence of any slave, without oath, shall be allowed and admitted in all causes whatsoever, for or against another slave accused of any crime of offence whatsoever; the weight of which evidence being seriously considered, and compared with all other circumstances attending the case, shall be left to the conscience of the justices and freeholders."

Condign is now verba fata.

Condign was used in the Newgate Calendar as follows:

"A press-gang in the year 1755, in a riotous manner, forced themselves into the house of Mr. William Godfrey, a citizen of good repute and a cooper, of the City of London. They knocked him down and dragged him through the streets with only one slipper on, and thus forcibly put him on board a King's ship in the River Thames. There he was confined in the hold among a number of other subjects, where there was a suffocating stench, the effects of which long endangered his life. Twelve hours was he thus confined, to the scandal, as the printed accounts of this lawless baseness of the time said, of all government, and in derogation of the rights and privileges of the City of London. At length, the Lord Mayor exercising his authority, Mr Godfrey was released, and his friends set about the laudable task of bringing those spoilers to condign punishment. Robert Alsop, William Sturges, John Dodsey, Frederick Offler, James Williamson, Charles Powell and Benjamin Tidsdale, a part of this press-gang, were indicted, and committed to prison."

As another example of legal usage of condign, this humorous story taken from an 1879 law journal:

"There are a few anecdotes still in circulation of the old lawyers and judges who flourished in the State of New York half a century back. Notably among these was Ambrose Spencer, who adorned the bench as Chief Justice. He was holding court on Staten Island, where so many lawless men were engaged in villainous wrecking and other kindred pursuits that the standard of public morality had been perceptibly lowered. A man was on trial who had committed some gross and high crime. The evidence was clear, and the Judge charged strongly against him. The jury, however, brought in a verdict of not guilty.

"The commanding figure of the Judge rose and towered to its full height. "Prisoner," said he, in loud and severe tones, "I have to address you in two directions; firstly, you have had a most extraordinary escape from condign punishment, which you deserved; and, secondly, you may be assured that the time will come when you will be tried at another bar, where it is some satisfaction, even now, to know there will be no Staten Island jury to acquit you!"


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