The Puritanical Penal System

Crime and Punishment of the Early 1600's

The Culture

As a culture, the Puritans very strictly enforced the laws of both the community and the Bible. Crimes were taken very seriously, though the majority of the offenders were found to be men. However, certain crimes, such as adultery, infanticide and witchcraft were crimes that usually only women were punished for. Besides the basic ones we know of today, the Puritan crimes could include boasting, talking too much, not going to church, brewing bad beer and nagging.

During these trials, there were no lawyers allowed on either side and the interrogations were notoriously fierce, often resulting in a railroading as a single witness could be used to convict someone. The punishments often were dealt with a large dose of humiliation and shame, feelings the Puritans felt made the greatest difference in future behavior.

The Process

When someone had been accused of a crime, a judge would tell whether or not the accusation was valid. Once decided, the accused would face interrogation at the magistrate's house with some deputies and marshalls as witnesses with no lawyers; if a trial was needed, the defendant would be free to go with no bail until the trial.

There were no defense lawyers used at the time and the coveted position of District Attorney was almost always on the offensive. Juries were not widely used either, and if one was requested by the defendant, they were thought to be bucking the authority of the judge, which was often the magistrate that had deemed the trial necessary. This situation usually resulted in a guilty verdict.

The real reason for the trial was to provide an example to the public in order to prevent future problems of the same nature and to allow for the defendant to admit guiltiness and repent.

The Tools of Correction