Significant Developments in Criminal Justice History

Pipetting DNA Sample Collected From Crime Scene Into Vial for Forensic Testing in Laboratory

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As ingrained as we might think the concepts of crime and punishment are in our society, the concepts of what crime is and how we respond to it have evolved significantly over the centuries. Some of the more interesting events in the history of criminology, criminal justice, and forensic science have occurred in civilizations across the globe, creating this timeline. 

The B.C. Years 

Blood feuds were rampant from 8000 to about 4000 B.C. Farming communities developed in the Middle East, bringing groups of people closer together. This created land disputes and the increased potential for crimes to occur.

Sumeria grew into the first known civilization in 3500 B.C., establishing the first city-states and governments to help settle disputes.

The rise of the Roman Republic began in 509 B.C. The Roman military served as the primary law enforcers until about 500 A.D. Their presence in the streets of cities and villages became an effective crime prevention strategy.

From 428 through 347 B.C.Greek philosopher Plato, a student of Socrates, introduced the concept that humans are inherently good. This would lay the groundwork for future Christian theology, and it would still influence views of crime and punishment centuries later.

Aristotle, a student of Plato and tutor to Alexander the Great, greatly expounded on the study of science and scientific observation from 384 through 327 B.C, which would later influence forensics and crime investigations.

Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C. and became the subject of the first recorded autopsy. 

The 1st Century 

Pedanius Dioscorides, a Greek physician, living in Rome, categorized various plants, their medicinal effects, and symptoms of poisoning from 50 to 70 A.D. His work, De Materia Medica, is considered to be the foundation of forensic toxicology.

Roman orator Quintilian used known science to prove that bloody handprints did not belong to accused murderer.

The decline of the Roman Empire led to destabilization in the western world and a return to the "kin policing" concept and blood feuds when families and neighbors policed themselves. Clans were seen as responsible for their members and took matters of crime and punishment into their own hands.

The 11th Century 

The Frankenpledge concept of policing was introduced in 1035. All males over the age of 12 were formed into groups of 10 with their neighbors. They took an oath to capture and detain members of their clans who committed crimes under the supervision of a constable. Constables in the shire were under the supervision of the Shire Reeve who was appointed by the Crown.

The 13th Century 

A Chinese physician published Hsi Duan Yu, The Washing Away of Wrongs, in 1248. It's the earliest known work on pathology and death investigations

Saint Thomas Aquinas composed his best-known work, the Summa Theologica, from 1265 to 1274. He presented the notion of Natural Law, building on Plato's philosophy. He suggested that crime was an insult to God and that it damaged not only the victim but the criminal as well because people are inherently good.

The 14th Century 

The Renaissance period began to influence attitudes toward government, crime, and punishment.

Justices of the peace were appointed by the King to provide support to constables and Shire Reeves. Justices could issue warrants and hold arraignment hearings, and they could try cases that involved minor crimes.

The parish constable system and the "hue and cry" developed. Males were appointed to serve as constables in a town for one year. When a constable called for aid, all men of the town would immediately respond. The call for aid would carry from town to town until a criminal was caught or the emergency ceased.

The 16th Century 

The scientific method was introduced as a tool for investigating crimes. It prompted new means of gathering and examining the evidence.

Various western philosophers began to discuss the idea of the "social contract" in which the purpose and role of the government and the responsibilities of the people and the sovereign were explained. People ceded their authority to the sovereign in exchange for safety, security, and prosperity. This thinking influenced a more secular view of crime during the Enlightenment.

The 18th Century 

Using scientific means to collect and compare evidence became widely accepted. 

Italian lawyer and philosopher Cesare Beccaria published his best-known work, On Crimes and Punishments, in 1764. It called for a fixed scale in which the severity of punishment would increase with the severity of the crime.

The 19th Century 

Metropolitan Police services were established in London in 1829, marking the first true full-time, uniformed, and professional police force. Sir Robert Peel's 9 Principles of Policing were issued to every officer on the force.

Belgian statistician Adolphe Quetelet looked at national crime statistics from France in 1827 and identified correlations between crime and demographics, including age, gender, education, and socioeconomic status. 

Psychiatrist and criminologist Cesare Lombroso founded the Positivist School of Criminology and suggested psychological and biological links to criminal behavior between 1858 and 1909.

George Eastman's revolutionary Kodak camera became widely available in 1888 and could be used to photograph and document crime scenes.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes employed science and reason to solve crimes and popularized the concept of forensics beginning in 1886. 

In 1880, Henry Faulds and William Herschel published a study in nature demonstrating that fingerprints were unique to individuals.

The 20th Century 

A method for using hydrogen peroxide to detect traces of blood through oxidation was discovered in 1901. 

Dr. Edmond Locard, the father of crime scene investigation, established the first real crime lab in two attic rooms at the Lyon, France police department in 1910. Dr. Locard published his now-famous Locard's Exchange Principle in 1934, presenting his belief that everything leaves a trace and thus there is always evidence to be found.

Digital and computer forensics were first developed by the FBI in 1984 to examine computer evidence. DNA evidence was used in a criminal court for the first time in 1987. Tommie Lee Andrews became the first person to be convicted as a result of DNA.

Criminal Justice History Moves On

We continue to grow and evolve in how we understand and respond to crime. Our ideas of how to better prevent crime and how to increase public trust in the police will remain at the forefront of the noble professions found within criminology and criminal justice. They should continue to provide exciting and rewarding career opportunities for years to come.