Portrait of Cesare Bonesana di Beccaria

Cesare Beccaria says that torture is cruel and barbaric and a violation of the principle that no one should be punished until proven guilty in a court of law; in other words it is the “right of power” (1764)

Found in: An Essay on Crimes and Punishments

Chapter XVI of Cesare Beccaria’s work on Crimes and Punishments (1764) is devoted to the issue of torture. Here he methodically lays out the modern, enlightened case against such practices, calling them cruel and based upon the "right of power" not justice


No man can be judged a criminal until he be found guilty; nor can society take from him the public protection, until it have been proved that he has violated the conditions on which it was granted. What right, then, but that of power, can authorise the punishment of a citizen, so long as there remains any doubt of his guilt? The dilemma is frequent. Either he is guilty, or not guilty. If guilty, he should only suffer the punishment ordained by the laws, and torture becomes useless, as his confession is unnecessary. If he be not guilty, you torture the innocent; for, in the eye of the law, every man is innocent, whose crime has not been proved.