Daily Life in New France
Crime and Punishment
Historians of New France all agree that the crime rate was very low; however, about half of all cases brought before the justice system involved soldiers. Among the crimes of which they were found guilty were such serious offences as rape, assault and battery, and duelling as well as crimes against property such as theft, fraud and counterfeiting. Soldiers were also charged with practices which are accepted or at least tolerated in this century, but which were often punishable by death at the time, such as homosexuality and sorcery. Finally, there was the specifically military crime, desertion, which sometimes involved treason as well.
The criminal justice system of the time, unlike that of today, placed more emphasis on exemplary punishment in public than in equality before the law. For this reason, punishment was often extremely brutal. The horror of the crime was atoned for through an equally horrible punishment.
The first level of military justice was the Conseil de guerre, an internal tribunal instituted in 1665 and composed of several officers from the corps of the accused. For serious crimes, such as murdering civilians, there were no special military courts, as was sometimes the case in France. The accused had to appear before a court presided over by a "civil and criminal lieutenant-general," who acted as a judge, assisted by a "special lieutenant." A prosecutor investigated the case and brought the accusations, while the accused had to defend himself, without the right to a lawyer. If the interrogation failed to reach a satisfactory conclusion, the accused was subjected to judicial torture, which was perfectly legal.
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