A Brief History of Crime and Punishment in America
History is no more than the portrayal of crimes and misfortunes.
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-