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Historically, the term “outlaw” was used to refer to a person who was outside of the protection of the law. An accused criminal who refused to submit to legal process was declared to be an outlaw through a process called “outlawry.” As a result of being deemed an outlaw, the person was deprived of the benefit of the law or excluded from its protection. Any member of the public could murder an outlaw with complete impunity. Through this process, the government essentially sanctioned acts of violence as a means of punishment. Today, the term “outlaw” is commonly used to describe a criminal or someone who habitually violates the law.

As a verb, “outlaw” means to make an activity illegal.

[Last updated in July of 2020 by the Wex Definitions Team]