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Punishments for Crimes Throughout History

Punishments for Crimes Throughout History

Are you aware that both violent and property crime has been steadily declining for decades? It may not seem like it, at least if you watch the news, but it has never been safer to live in America. Part of that is due to our legal system, an adversarial system that makes sure everybody has an avenue to at least make their case in front of a jury of peers. It’s also in part due to our penal system, which though it has a very long way to go, has started to treat prisoners as people rather than chattel. But that wasn’t always the case; throughout history, there used to be serious, often violent punishments for even minor infractions. Luckily, nowadays, these aren’t things criminals need fear. If you need legal help in Kutztown, call Attorney Dutko for representation. In the meantime, here are some of the punishments for crimes throughout history.


Bastinado originated in Asia, where it was used as punishment for minor to moderate infractions. The practice involved beating a person with a stick hard on the soles of their feet. While that may not sound as vicious as some of the practices on this list, you have to remember that this is before people had access to decent shoes, and there was no such thing as time off for injuries. A victim of this punishment would feel a resurgence of pain with every step they took.


Everyone has heard of the guillotine, but beheading was a common punishment long before its invention. Reaching its height in England and France, beheading was generally only reserved as punishment for those of noble birth. In England, it was commonly carried out with a sword or axe, and in France with the guillotine. This practice of punishment was common all the way up to the 18th century, with Simon (The Fox, of Outlander and historical fame) Fraser being the last man to be beheaded in Scotland.


This is probably the oldest form of punishment, and was very important for structuring society. Essentially, it was a slow death sentence, as ancient nomadic tribes depended on their group to survive. As with the modern death sentence, the justification for banishment was more to keep the rest of the tribe in line than necessarily any kind of practical way to make the group safer.


Another English punishment, and one that is probably much more painful than the previous entries, was to boil people alive in retribution for assassination attempts using poison. This was a common practice in the 1500s. Two notable historical cooks who received this punishment were Richard Roose in 1532 and Margaret Davy in 1542. The law allowing boiling alive as punishment for poisoning was repealed back in 1547.


A punishment for minor infractions, birching actually still exists in many places today. It is the practice of beating a person on their hind end with a birch stick (nowadays, any type of stick). Luckily, Britain, where this practice was most popular, abolished birching in 1948.


Branding was a form of punishment used to mark a criminal for their actions. Many cultures have made use of this practice over history. On top of outing a person’s criminal status for the rest of their life, branding was of course extremely painful.

Hopefully these entries proved interesting. Stay tuned for our next installment of Punishments for Crimes Throughout History. If you are looking for legal help from a professional law firm in Kutztown, give Charles Dutko a call. We can put an experienced criminal lawyer in your corner, ensuring that you get the best representation possible. Give us a call for more information, we will be happy to provide any answers we can.

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