Do Animals Ever Face Criminal Charges?

In 1508, Autun, France, held trials for rats accused of eating the town's barley; records suggest the rats were exonerated.
In 1508, Autun, France, held trials for rats accused of eating the town's barley; records suggest the rats were exonerated.

Animals might not always act in the best interests of humans, but rarely does is a whole species put on trial. One such case occurred in 1508, when the village of Autun, France, wanted to prosecute rats for eating all of the barley. As nutty as it sounds, the court set a trial date, but of course, none of the rats showed up.

In their defense, jurist Bartholomew Chassenée argued that many of the rats probably didn't know about the trial because it hadn't been announced widely enough. So, a second trial was set -- after proper village-wide announcements had been made -- but again the rats were no-shows. Chassenée was ready, stressing that the rats might have known about the trial but were too frightened to attend. After all, cats, dogs, and maybe even people lay in wait. His argument was upheld, and a third trial was scheduled.

Unfortunately, we have no solid evidence as to what happened next, although records suggest the rats were never found guilty, and thus got away squeaky clean.

Oh, rats:

  • A rat's teeth never stop growing, which explains why they go around gnawing everything from cinder blocks to lead.

  • Rats typically live in groups, in which they play, groom one another, and even laugh in a high-pitched way.

  • Rats develop a clear idea of their environment by touching their whiskers against objects; their whiskers are more sensitive than human fingertips.

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    • In 1508, Autun, France, held trials for rats accused of eating the town's barley; records suggest the rats were exonerated.
      In 1508, Autun, France, held trials for rats accused of eating the town's barley; records suggest the rats were exonerated.