Since California became part of the United States in 1850, it has had its own criminal laws. California derived its criminal law from the statues of other states, as well as from the federal government, seeking to bring order to what at its inceptions was a large and largely order-less region.
California's criminal laws have changed over the years to adjust to new conditions and new times. Many of the core concepts, however, have remained intact since the state's inception.
The chief source of criminal laws in California is its Penal Code, containing the definition and punishment for virtually all crimes committed against persons--from murder to simple battery--crimes against property--thefts and vandalism--and crimes against the administration of government--such as bribery, perjury and graft. Crimes can also be found in other California statues, such as its Health and Safety Code for narcotics violations, and the Vehicle Code for offenses dealing with the rules of the road.
The California Penal Code defines a crime or public offense as "an act committed or omitted in violation of a law forbidding or commanding it, and to which is annexed, upon conviction, either commanding it, and to which is annexed upon conviction, either of the following punishments ...." Thus, any purported wrongdoing, no matter how reprehensible, becomes a crime or public offense only when a duly enacted law formally declares it to, to be so in advance, and the culpable act or omission includes a specifically described punishment. The punishment which attaches to a proscribed act or omission makes criminal law in California, as elsewhere, the most coercive of all legal procedures.
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