There is a general consensus among Ottomanists that capital punishment became a rare occurrence in the Ottoman Empire from the 1840s onwards. This paper argues that two structural aspects of the reformed criminal justice system functioned as constraints on the imposition of the death penalty in the late Ottoman Empire. The first concerns the Tanzimat state’s particular attention to the principle of legality and procedural correctness with regard to criminal prosecution and sentencing. These principles, together with a centralized judicial review procedure, deprived local authorities of discretionary punishment powers that left them little leeway to administer the law on their own. This resulted in the circumscribed use of summary executions and death sentences for crimes against the state. The second aspect concerns the merging of Islamic criminal law, particularly Hanafi doctrines, with state-enacted penal codes, and, in parallel, the dual trial procedure carried out in crimes committed against individuals, i.e., homicide. Drawing on archival sources as well as distinct viewpoints harbored by the Ottoman elites, this article contends that the mingling of two spheres of jurisdiction extensively restricted the power of the judicial councils/Nizamiye courts to pass death sentences for acts of premeditated murder.


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pp. 7-29
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