The history of Criminal Law in California
goes back to the introduction of common law in England. Originally,
the state only regulated people's conduct to the extent it interfered
with society's interests. Much
of the behavior of the person was left to either to the home or to
The Church was primarily the regulator
for the morality of the people, including having hearings and punishments
for those who violated the rules against adultery or incest. As time
went on, the Church started to lose its ability to control various
aspects of the lives of the people and the governmentstarting controlling
more and more, including regulations about what people must do or
what people must not do. The Bishop of the diocese would preside over
the ecclesiastical court and the local sheriff would preside over
the remaining civil courts. There would be significant differences
in the rules for each of the counties or regions in a country.
of Common Law
In England things changed after the Norman
conquest in 1066. Henry II decided to institutionalize the law throughout
England by unifying the law so that it would be "common"
to the country and reinstated the jury system. The judges were sent
out from London to hear the cases. Upon their return, they would discuss
their cases and developed "case" law. The judges would then
rely on this "case" law to decide future cases. Thus, the
law became "common" throughout England. "Statutory"
law, or the law passed by the legislature, did not occur for several
under Common Law
There were three basic crimes under the
common law: treason, felony and misdemeanor.
- There were also two categories of felonies: those with
benefit of clergy and those without benefit of clergy. The
punishment for all felonies was death; except the punishment
for mayhem which was mutilation. Additionally, the criminal
would forfeit all their land and property to the king. If
the felony was committed by a member of the clergy, the
clergy had the right to be tried in the ecclesiastical court
rather than the King's court. Death was not an option in
the court of the church. As the King grew stronger over
time and the Church grew weaker, the King ultimately obtained
control over all cases, even those involving the clergy.
However, the clergy still could not be put to death, although
they would be tried in the King's court.
- The primary common law misdemeanors were assault and batter,
perjury, bribery, forgery and conspiracy. There was a great
distinction between a felony and a misdemeanor at common law.
A person charged with a misdemeanor was entitled to an attorney,
a copy of the written accusation and was also entitled to
a special jury. A person charged with a felony was not entitled
to these rights. A misdemeanant did not suffer forfeiture
In the United States, the new states would
look to "common law" to help decide and interpret the law.
However, each state was free to modify the law with whatever statutes
the state chose to enact. Thus, today, virtually all states laws are
based in part on common law and partially on statutory law.
In California, the criminal laws are primarily
set forth in the Penal Code. The Penal Code was first enacted in 1872.
The state legislature is constantly making changes to the Penal
Code, including adding new laws and new punishments.