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English Law. An exemption of the punishment of death which the laws impose on the commission of certain crimes, on the culprit demanding it. By modern statute's, benefit of clergy was rather a substitution of a more mild punishment for the punishment of death.
It was lately granted, not only to the clergy, as was formerly the case, but to all persons. The benefit of clergy seems never to have been extended to the crime of high treason, nor to have embraced misdemeanors inferior to felony. But this privilege improperly given to the clergy, because they had more learning than others) is now abolished by stat.
By the Act of Congress of April 30, 1790, it was provided, that the benefit of clergy shall not be used or allowed, upon conviction of any crime, for which, by any statute of the United States, the punishment is, or shall be declared to be, death.