Arcanum 1780: A New World
Law Enforcement In New Britain
Law Enforcement In New Britain
Law enforcement in New Britain in 1780 is, quite frankly, a chaotic and inefficient mess. Archaic systems imported from old England and a raft of emergency measures imposed in the years after the event are slowly being replaced by reforms that should suit the legal system to a prosperous and peaceful future, but the pace of reform is slow.
The only places that have functioning, organised police forces (known as “City Runners”) are the largest cities – Philadelphia, New York and Boston – and even there constables are given only basic training in the law. Most constables, or watchmen as they’re called in the smaller towns, are ex-military veterans on a small wage but in the small towns and countryside they may even be unpaid, part-time volunteers given a badge and a truncheon then expected to do the best they can. The Sheriff in charge of the force at town or county level is almost certainly also a local nobleman with other concerns to occupy his time – only in the cities are Sheriffs full-time law enforcement professionals. The system also encourages private entrepreneurs called “thief-takers” or “bounty hunters” who will hunt down criminals on behalf of private persons and businesses for a reward.
Above the level of law enforcers, the judges are often no better. County Court Judges, who deal with misdemeanours and what is known as “clergyable felonies” are likewise part-time officials, usually petty nobles. High County Judges who officiate at the Shire level on all “unclergyable felonies” are also usually also nobles, but generally accord more importance to their work – and get paid more to do so by the Crown – so they tend to be more engaged full-time with their duties.
There are no district attorneys in New British law. A a system of professional prosecutors, government paid and appointed, is viewed as potentially tyrannical and, worse still, French. Any British citizen can prosecute any crime. In practice, the prosecutor is usually the victim. It is up to him to file charges with the local magistrate, present evidence to the grand jury, and, if the grand jury finds a true bill, provide evidence for the trial. Many businessmen create or join an association for the prosecution of felons. Most such associations consist of between twenty and a hundred members, all living in the same general area. They establish a funding pool to pay for prosecutions – and the employment if necessary of “thief-takers” working for a reward – and list of members is published in the local newspaper to discourage criminals.
Misdemeanors include: theft of property or money to less than One Shilling ($8) value; disturbance of the King’s peace; being drunk and disorderly; breaking a curfew and other minor crimes. Punishment is usually a fine, whipping or exposure in the stocks.
Clergyable Felonies originated as a legal rule permitting clerics charged with capital offenses to have their cases transferred to a church court, which did not impose capital punishment. By 1780, three important things had changed – the definition of clergy had been broadened to include anyone at all, the church courts had lost their role in dealing with serious crimes, and the term had changed its definition. Nowadays, these offenses are mainly those which involve bodily harm but not permanent harm/disfigurement or theft/damage of property over the value of One Shilling but do not involve theft/damage over the value of 4 pounds ($400). Punishment is a longer whipping, longer exposure in the stocks, one to ten years hard labor at public works, or transportation to the Shire of Honduras to serve the same term of hard labor in the jungle mines and plantations there.
Unclergyable Felonies involve grand theft, grievous bodily harm, manslaughter, murder, rape and other serious crimes up to High Treason. The sentence is death by hanging. Someone who is not a member of the clergy, convicted of such a crime, can for one time only petition the court to be sentenced as if found guilty of a clergyable crime. If the petition is granted, they are punished as for the lesser offense and are branded on the left hand, on the fleshy area at the base of thumb and forefinger, with a small crown-shaped mark. Such “Marked Men”, should they ever again be convicted of a crime that is greater than a misdemeanour, are automatically sent to the gallows.