The modern understanding of the term “outlaw” is someone who has broken the law and has not been captured and brought to justice. There is, however, another sense of the term. A note is said to be “outlawed” when the statute of limitations no longer permits its enforcement. Fleury v. Ramacciotti, 8 Cal. 2d 660, 661 (1937) (“The statute of limitations had run on the original note, and there is no suggestion that it had been tolled for any reason. Notwithstanding the outlawry of the note, however . . .”). I am aware of only one instance of this use of the term “outlaw” in a California statute. In prescribing the form of time warrants, Section 53041 of the California Water Code states “This warrant will outlaw four years after it matures and cannot thereafter be legally paid unless extended by order of the board of trustees on or before maturity.”
Why There Were No Women Outlaws In King John’s England
I have been writing occasionally about the Magna Carta in commemoration of the famous’ charter’s 800th birthday last June. King John gave the charter by his hand (he didn’t sign it) at Runnymede or perhaps nearby Windsor. At that time, an outlaw was someone who was outside the protection of the law. Hence anyone could kill an outlaw with impunity. Sir William Blackstone described an outlaw’s condition more colorfully as follows:
[A]nciently an outlawed felon was said to have caput lupinum, and might be knocked on the head like a wolf, by any one that should meet him; because, having renounced all law, he was to be dealt with as in a state of nature, when every one that should find him might flay him . . . .
Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, Book IV, p. 315.
In most cases, however, women were not required to make homage to the king. Thus, never having been properly within the law, women could not be outlawed. Nonetheless, a woman could be “waived” with the same result that she could be killed by anyone. The word “waiver” is derived from the Anglo-French word weyver, meaning to abandon. A woman who was waived became a “waif”.