A Layperson's Guide to Criminal Law

By Raneta Lawson Mack | Go to book overview

1
A Brief History of Crime and Punishment in America

History is no more than the portrayal of crimes and misfortunes.

-- Voltaire


THE COMMON LAW

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once remarked that "the life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience." That observation has never been more accurate than when applied to the development of the criminal law. Although most of the laws defining crime and punishment are now incorporated into modern federal or state statutes, the criminal law has a rich and diverse historical tradition. Early settlers of America, fleeing the tyranny of the English monarchy, brought with them a fierce desire for independence from the mother country. In order to quickly establish a basic foundation for their emerging legal system, those pioneers also imported portions of the English legal system. Once imported, however, the laws did not remain static or tied to English tradition. Instead, since the American colonies were as diverse as modern states are today, each colony shaped and utilized different aspects of English law according to its particular needs and interests.

The English law imported by the colonies was generally referred to as the "common law." Since the common law of England was, for the most part, based upon the decisions of judges in particular cases, it was sometimes also referred to as "judge-made" law. When rendering decisions, judges us-

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A Layperson's Guide to Criminal Law
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Introduction xi
  • 1 - A Brief History of Crime and Punishment in America 1
  • 2 - Basic Concepts of Criminal Law 19
  • 3 - Unlawful Killings 43
  • 4 - Sexual Assault and Related Offenses 65
  • 5 - Preparatory Criminal Conduct 87
  • 6 - Theft Offenses 111
  • 7 - Criminal Law Defenses 131
  • 8 - Miscellaneous Criminal Offenses 157
  • 9 - The Criminal Process 175
  • Glossary 191
  • Bibliography 197
  • Index 199
  • About the Author 203
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