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Sonoma County Court of Sessions records, 1857-1863
SCG.00047  
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Collection Details
 
Table of contents What's This?
  • Overview of the Collection
  • Court History
  • Scope and Contents
  • Access Terms
  • Important Information for Users of the Collection
  • Arrangement of Materials:
  • Scope and Contents

  • Overview of the Collection

    Collection Title: Sonoma County Court of Sessions records,
    Dates: 1857-1863
    Identification: SCG.00047
    Creator: California. Court of Sessions (Sonoma County)
    Physical Description: 4 volumes
    Language of Materials: English
    Repository: Sonoma County Library Archives
    Sonoma County Library
    6135 State Farm Drive
    Rohnert Park, CA 94928
    Abstract: This collection contains registers and minutes of criminal cases brought before the Court of Sessions.

    Court History

    Biography/Organization History

    Establishment and Abolishment of the Court of Sessions
    The first Constitution of the State of California, which was ratified by the people of California on 13 November 1849, directed that the County Judge of each California county along with two Justices of the Peace “shall hold Courts of Sessions with such criminal jurisdiction as the Legislature shall prescribe.” Five months later, on 11 April 1850, the California Legislature dutifully fulfilled its constitutional obligation and passed “An Act to organize the Court of Sessions.” This act stipulated that each Court of Sessions was to be composed of the County Judge, acting as the presiding Judge, and two Justices of the Peace, as Associates Justices, elected by all the Justices of the Peace of the County. In addition to its judicial role, the Court, in lieu of a Board of Supervisors, was to have broad administrative duties in each county which included powers to:
    1.) make such orders respecting the property of the County as they may deem expedient, in conformity with any law of the State, and to take care of, and preserve such property,
    2.) examine, settle, and allow all accounts chargeable against such County, and to direct the raising of such sums, by taxation on property, real and personal, in such County, not to exceed, however, the one-half of the tax levied by the State on such property, as may be necessary to defray all expenses and charges against such County,
    3.) examine and audit the accounts of all officers having the care, management, collection, and disbursement of any money belonging to the County, or appropriated by law, or otherwise, for its use and benefit,
    4.) have the control and management of public roads, turnpikes, ferries, canals, roads, and bridges, within the County, where law does not prohibit such jurisdiction; and to make such orders as may be necessary and requisite to carry such control and management into effect,
    5.) divide the County into townships, and to create new townships, and change the divisions of the same, as the convenience of the County may require,
    6.) establish and change election precincts,
    7.) control and manage the property, real and personal, belonging to the County, and to purchase and receive by donation, any property, real and personal, for the use and benefit of the County: Provided, however, that the Court of Sessions shall not have power to purchase any real or personal property, except such as may be absolutely necessary for the use of the County,
    8.) sell, and cause to be conveyed, any real estate, goods, or chattels belonging to their County, appropriating the proceeds of such sale to the use of the same,
    9.) cause to be erected and furnished, a Court House, Jail, and such other public buildings as may be necessary, and the same to be kept in repair, and
    10.) do and perform all such other acts and things as may be requisite and necessary to the full discharge of the powers and jurisdiction conferred on such Court, and which may be enjoined on it by law.
    On 3 May 1852, the California Legislature transferred these County administrative duties in many California counties, including Sonoma County, to Boards of Supervisors in each county when it passed “An Act to create a Board of Supervisors for the Counties of this State, and to define their duties and powers.” The Boards were to be composed of five members elected at the next general election and at each subsequent general election. Supervisors were to hold office for the term of one year. No Justices of the Peace, Clerks, Sheriffs, or other County Officers were eligible for the office of Supervisor. Sonoma County elected its first Board of Supervisors on 14 June 1852. The Board, composed of David O. Shattuck, William A. Hereford, Leonard P. Hanson, and James Singley, met for the first time on 5 July 1852 to take charge of the County’s affairs, ending the Sonoma County Court of Sessions’ role in County administration.
    In 1862, several articles of the 1849 California Constitution were amended. Article six, concerning the reorganization of the judicial department, as amended, effectively abolished the Court of Sessions by omitting it from the list of California courts vested in judicial power in section one of that article. Section nineteen of that same article, however, allowed the various existing courts, including the Court of Sessions, to continue to function until the election and qualification of the officers of the new courts. When the courts of justice of the state of California were reorganized by the California Legislature in 1863, the Courts of Sessions were abolished effective 1 January 1864. All cases pending in the Courts of Sessions at the end of the year 1863 were transferred to the County Courts on 1 January 1864.
    Jurisdiction of the Court of Sessions
    The 1850 act organizing the Court of Sessions conferred on the Court jurisdiction over all cases of assault, assault and battery, breach of the peace, riot, affray, petit larceny, and all misdemeanors punishable by a fine not exceeding $500 or imprisonment not exceeding three months or both such fine and imprisonment.
    On 1 July 1851, the California Legislature repealed the 1850 act and gave to the Court of Sessions jurisdiction to: 1.) inquire, by the intervention of a Grand Jury, of all public offences committed or triable in its County, 2.) try and determine indictments found therein, for all public offences, except murder, manslaughter, and arson, and to try and determine indictments in these excepted cases against a person holding the office of District Judge, and 3.) hear and determine appeals from the Justices’, Recorders’ and Mayors’ Courts in cases of a criminal nature. Indictments for murder, manslaughter, and arson were to be transmitted to the District Court for trial, except those against District Court judges.
    Two years later on 19 May 1853, the California Legislature repealed the 1851 act concerning the courts of justice and judicial officers and passed another act of the same name, which was to take effect on 6 June 1853. The jurisdiction of the Court of Sessions remained the same except that in all other counties but San Francisco County, indictments for “crimes as may by law be punishable by death” were added to those which the Court of Sessions could not try and determine. Those indictments would be transmitted to the District Court for trial. In San Francisco County’s Court of Sessions all indictments for public offences could be tried and determined. Indictments for murder, manslaughter, arson, or any crime that may be punishable by death found against a District Court judge were to be transmitted to another District Court for trial.
    The California Legislature amended the 1853 act concerning the courts of justice and judicial officers less than a year later on 13 April 1854, essentially restoring the Court of Sessions’ jurisdiction back to that of the 1851 act with the exception that indictments for murder, manslaughter, and arson found against District Court judges were to be transmitted to another District Court for trial rather than tried and determined in the Court of Sessions.
    The 1853 act concerning the courts of justice and judicial officers was again amended on 14 February 1860 to add “fighting a duel, and killing or wounding any person therein” to the list of indictments for public offences the Court of Sessions could not try or determine. Indictments found for murder, manslaughter, fighting a duel, and killing or wounding any person therein, or arson were to be transmitted to the District Court for trial, except those found against a District Court judge, when they were to be transmitted to another District Court for trial.
    When the Courts of Sessions were abolished at the end of 1863 the jurisdiction “to inquire, by the intervention of a Grand Jury, of all public offences committed or triable in their respective counties” and “to try and determine all indictments found therein, for all public offences, except treason, misprision of treason, murder, and manslaughter” was given to the County Courts. The jurisdiction “to hear and determine all cases, civil and criminal, appealed thereto, in the manner provided by law, from Courts held by Justices of the Peace, Recorders, and other inferior Municipal Courts” was also conferred on the County Courts.
    End notes
    1 . Constitution of the State of California, 1849, Article VI (Judicial Department), section 8.
    2 . The Statutes of California, Passed at the First Session of the Legislature, Begun the 15th Day of Dec. 1849, and Ended the 22nd Day of April, 1850, at the City of Pueblo San José (San José: J. Winchester, State Printer, 1850), pp. 210–211, Chap. 86, “An Act to Organize the Court of Sessions.”
    3 . The Statutes of California, Passed at the Third Session of the Legislature, Begun on the Fifth of January, 1852, and Ended on the Fourth Day of May, 1852, at the Cities of Vallejo and Sacramento (San Francisco: G. K. Fitch & Co., and V. E. Geiger & Co., State Printers, 1852), pp. 87–89, Chap. XXXVIII, “An Act to create a Board of Supervisors for the Counties of this State, and to define their duties and powers.”
    4 . Sonoma County, California, certificates of election for David O. Shattuck, William A. Hereford, and James Singley dated 19 June 1852 and L. P. Hanson dated 24 June 1852; Sonoma County Archives, Santa Rosa.
    5 . Robert A. Thompson, Historical and Descriptive Sketch of Sonoma County, California (Philadelphia: L. H. Everts and Co., 1877), 18.
    6 . The Statutes of California, Passed at the Fourteenth Session of the Legislature, 1863: Begun on Monday, the Fifth Day of January, and Ended on Monday, the Twenty-seventh Day of April (Sacramento: Benj. P. Avery, State Printer, 1863), pp. 333–346, Chap. CCLX, “An Act Concerning the Courts of Justice of this State, and Judicial Officers.”
    7 . The Statutes of California, Passed at the Fifteenth Session of the Legislature, 1863–4: Began on Monday, the Seventh Day of December, Eighteen Hundred and Sixty-three, and Ended on Monday, the Fourth Day of April, Eighteen Hundred and Sixty-four (Sacramento: O. M. Clayes, State Printer, 1864), pp. 1–4, Chap. 1, “An Act providing for the Transfer of Cases, on the first day of January next, to the Courts established by the present Constitution.”
    8 . The Statutes of California, Passed at the First Session of the Legislature, Begun the 15th Day of Dec. 1849, and Ended the 22nd Day of April, 1850, at the City of Pueblo San José (San José: J. Winchester, State Printer, 1850), pp. 210–211, Chap. 86, “An Act to Organize the Court of Sessions.”
    9 . The Statutes of California, Passed at the Second Session of the Legislature: Begun on [6 January 1851], and Ended on [1 May 1851], at the City of San Jose (n.p.: Eugene Casserly, State Printer, 1851), pp. 31–34, Chap. 2, “An Act amending an Act entitled ‘An Act concerning the Courts of Justice of this State and Judicial Officers’,” specifically p. 34, § 11. This act amended a previous act by adding the hearing and determining appeals from Mayors’ Courts in cases of a criminal nature to the Court of Sessions’ jurisdiction. See, The Statutes of California, Passed at the Second Session of the Legislature: Begun on [6 January 1851], and Ended on [1 May 1851], at the City of San Jose (n.p.: Eugene Casserly, State Printer, 1851), pp. 9–31, Chap. 1, “An Act concerning the Courts of Justice of this State, and Judicial Officers,” specifically p. 19, § 66.
    10 . The Statutes of California, Passed at the Second Session of the Legislature: Begun on [6 January 1851], and Ended on [1 May 1851], at the City of San Jose (n.p.: Eugene Casserly, State Printer, 1851), pp. 9–31, Chap. 1, “An Act concerning the Courts of Justice of this State, and Judicial Officers,” specifically p. 19, § 67.
    11 . The Statutes of California, Passed at the Fourth Session of the Legislature, Begun on [3 January 1853], and Ended on [19 May 1853], at the Cities of Vallejo and Benicia (San Francisco: George Kerr, State Printer, 1853), pp. 287–305, Chap. CLXXX, “An Act Concerning the Courts of Justice of this State, and Judicial Officers.”
    12 . The Statutes of California, Passed at the Fourth Session of the Legislature, Begun on [3 January 1853], and Ended on [19 May 1853], at the Cities of Vallejo and Benicia (San Francisco: George Kerr, State Printer, 1853), pp. 287–305, Chap. CLXXX, “An Act Concerning the Courts of Justice of this State, and Judicial Officers,” specifically p. 295, sections 52 and 53.
    13 . The Statutes of California Passed at the Fifth Session of the Legislature, Begun on [4 January 1854], and Ended on [15 May 1854], at the Cities of Benicia and Sacramento (Sacramento: B. B. Redding, State Printer, 1854), pp. 28–29, Chap. XX, “An Act to amend an Act entitled ‘An Act concerning the Courts of Justice of this State and Judicial officers,’ passed May, nineteenth, eighteen hundred and fifty-three,” specifically p. 29, sections 7 and 8.
    14 . The Statutes of California, Passed at the Eleventh Session of the Legislature, 1860. Begun Monday, [2 January 1860], and Ended on Monday, [13 April 1860] (Sacramento: Charles T. Botts, State Printer, 1860), p. 31, Chap. LV, “An Act to amend an Act entitled ‘An Act concerning the Courts of Justice of this State and Judicial officers,’ approved May nineteenth, on thousand eight hundred and fifty-three, and an Act amendatory thereof, approved April thirteenth, one thousand eight hundred and fifty-four.”
    15 . The Statutes of California, Passed at the Fourteenth Session of the Legislature, 1863: Begun on Monday, the Fifth Day of January, and Ended on Monday, the Twenty-seventh Day of April (Sacramento: Benj. P. Avery, State Printer, 1863), pp. 333–346, Chap. CCLX, “An Act Concerning the Courts of Justice of this State, and Judicial Officers,” specifically p. 337, sections 32 and 35.

    Scope and Contents

    Official documents.

    Access Terms

    This Collection is indexed under the following controlled access subject terms.

    Topical Term:

    Criminal courts -- California -- Sonoma County
    Judgments -- California -- Sonoma County

    Important Information for Users of the Collection

    Conditions Governing Access:

    Materials stored offsite, but collection is open to research. In many cases, further details on individual volumes can be found by calling staff at the Sonoma County History and Genealogy Library. To view these materials, please call staff at 707 308-3212 to request they be brought from the Archives to the Library

    Publication Rights

    Property rights reside with the Sonoma County Library. The Sonoma County Library has made this collection available and believes that the collection is in the Public Domain under the laws of the United States, but a determination was not made as to its copyright status under the copyright laws of other countries. The Collection may not be in the Public Domain under the laws of other countries. Preferred credit line is: Courtesy, the Sonoma County Library. Please see additional reproduction and reuse information at https://sonomalibrary.org/locations/sonoma-county-history-and-genealogy-library/order-photo

    Preferred Citation:

    Sonoma County Court of Sessions records, 1857-1863. SCG.00047, Sonoma County Archives, Sonoma County Library, Rohnert Park, California.

    Arrangement of Materials:

    Series. Arranged in three series: I. Records--register, 1857-1862; II. Minute book, 1857-1863; and III. Judgment book, 1858-1859.

    Scope and Contents

    Minutes of criminal cases.