Which Came First? The Felony or the DUI?

The concept of a “felony” sailed over to America in the 1600s with the Pilgrims and the ideals of English Common Law. Intoxication surely existed at that time, but it was a couple hundred years before driving under the influence made it into the United States or Colorado Law. Although beer wavered over on the Mayflower, and cannabis was planted in the first continental colony of Jamestown, Virginia, Colorado did not become a state until 1876, and cars didn’t start becoming evident in America until Ford’s Model T drove the force of auto manufacturing in 1908.

Drunkenness was addressed in English Common Law, but not everyone on the Mayflower agreed to the ideals of English Common Law. Pilgrims and non-Pilgrims came over on the Mayflower. Before the Mayflower travelers disembarked from the ship in 1620, the Mayflower Compact was signed as an agreement to create “just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions and Offices.”

Felonies and Capital Laws

In the early days of England’s Common Law, the categories felonies and misdemeanors were created to separate serious crimes from less serious crimes. Except for Mayhem, a felony meant the death penalty. (Mutilation was the punishment for the felony of mayhem.) Capital laws – those requiring the death penalty – were among the first organized laws recorded among the colonial settlers. The term “felony” was used in laws that were set forth to establish pre-existing English Law. We can see this in Rhode Island’s Acts and Orders of 1647, which includes the term felony for capital offenses.

The original felonies under Common Law: Homicide, Arson, Rape, Robbery, Burglary, Larceny, Prison Breach [Escape], Rescue of a Felon – Perkins and Boyce, Criminal Law 14-15 (3d ed. 1982)

Early Common Law in England allowed Judges to determine what behavior and punishment was warranted, and sentencing decisions were often based on previous decisions (precedent, as the courts still use today). Early American Colonial residents in the 1600s were under the rule of the King, but committees were formed to create American colony laws.

Beginning of Organized Law, Intoxication Law, and American Sentencing

The Jamestown, Virginia held the first legislative assembly in 1619 to create laws for the growing colony. It was held inside a church, and the first recorded law against drunkenness in the continental U.S. was made. The first laws published in America are generally attributed to the Plymouth Code of 1636. These were primarily business-oriented, but they did include laws for the punishment of drunkards, and for serving and pricing alcohol. Prior to 1636, only two pages of laws were found to have been written between 1623 and 1627 in the Plymouth colony.

Nathaniel Ward’s “Body of Liberties” was a list of rights and laws suggested for Massachusetts in 1641. 100 liberties were listed, and it’s considered a precursor to today’s constitutions. The term felony is not mentioned, however biblically-based capital crimes are listed. Adultery was a crime deserving of the death penalty, as were other biblically-based capital crimes such as blasphemy. However, the colonists felt more laws were needed for social order. Productivity was important for survival, and idleness was a sin.

More laws were developed. The Massachusetts’s Code of 1648 expanded on the Body of Liberties. It was the first comprehensive printed and enacted law of the New England states. It included liberties, laws and punishments. The Code of 1648 included religion-based capital laws, a heavy reliance on biblical scripture, and included a title for laws concerning “tippling” and drunkenness for Inn-Keepers. Whipping was limited to 40 lashes (contrary to English Law which stated “until his body is bloody”), but torture was illegal. As comprehensive as this Code was for this early printing press era, the General Court ordered 600 copies of the Code to be made. (It wasn’t until 1690 that a multi-page newspaper was printed in Colonial America.)

The Massachusetts Code of 1648 was a model law, and strayed somewhat from English Law. In 1650, Connecticut created its own code, and certain Massachusetts laws were adopted by Connecticut. (22 out of 78 provisions were the same, including some capital laws and drunkenness laws). New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania followed suit, each adopting laws and creating laws that served the culture of the colony. These colonial codes etched into America the beginning of federal and state divisions, and the liberties and criminal procedures that we follow today – but it was 128 years before the Declaration of Independence was signed, and 139 years before the United States Constitution was written.

Early America: Sins were Crimes and Whippings and Shame were the Sentence

early america 1The primary concerns for early Colonial lawmakers were social order and repentance. Sin was a crime. Drunkenness was a sin and disrupted social order. In Colonial law, the wealthier colonial drunkards were subject to a fine of a few shillings (old English law fined 40 shillings, colonial law often fined ten), but the poor usually suffered a physical punishment. Early colonial law included many forms of painful physical punishment for prisoners. The bilboes, a contraption that held legs up in the air with iron restraints, was used for drunks in the early 1600s, and the pillory (a early america 2type of stockade made with wood and iron to lock in the prisoner’s head and hands) later became common in every village.

The pillory was used for shaming, whipping and torture of prisoners guilty of arson, blasphemy, burglary, slandering, fortune-telling and drunkenness (among other crimes). It was not uncommon for the ears to be nailed to the pillory, or for criminals to be branded with a hot iron, or mutilated with loss of a body part in accordance with their crime.

Fortunately, criminal law, punishment and retribution has been continuously examined and questioned with the advancement of civilization and the creation of the United States Constitution and the Model Penal Code. They’ve also become highly complex.

History Collection for the Colorado Felony DUI provided by Denver DUI Attorneys at Tiftickjian Law Firm, P.C.

If you’ve received a DUI, you won’t be sent to the pillory, but your fines will be more than a few shillings, and you could receive a harsh prison sentence. A skilled DUI defense lawyer stays current with the law, sentencing options, and investigation techniques. If you’ve been arrested for DUI, call the Tiftickjian Law Firm in Denver at (303) DUI-5280 for assistance with your case today.


Tiftickjian Law Firm Felony DUI History Collection

History of Colorado Felony DUI – “A Short History of Colorado’s Felony DUI Bills and Laws
History of Colorado Felony DUI – Part 1 “Which Came First? The Felony or the DUI?
History of Colorado Felony DUI – Part 2 “The Rough Road to Freedom” (Laws and Independence, the 1700’s)
History of Colorado Felony DUI – Part 3 “Colorado, Felonies and The First DUI

A MADD Idea: Eliminating Drunk Driving

Eliminating Drunk Driving: MADD 2015 Report Examines State Progress – Colorado Shines with Exemplary DUI Laws that Reduce Drunk Driving

Felony DUI in the Press

KOA Radio Show – Is a Felony DUI a Good Idea? “Jay Tiftickjian Guest on Radio Show Topic: Colorado Felony DUI
Colorado Felony DUI Bill Debate – Jay Tiftickjian and Mark Waller Agree Is Treatment the Answer? Yes – both agree.