After their establishment in 1850, all courts holding criminal proceedings were responsible for maintaining criminal indexes, which recorded the name of the offender, the subject of the delinquency, and the final verdict of the trial. These indexes are arranged alphabetically by the surname of the offender, or chronologicaly with an index in the back. So, knowing the place and approximate time when a crime happened, these indexes can be quickly searched to see if a person had any brushes with the law. The town chronicle, newspapers, or a note in the death registers can be good sources to learn further information about a crime and the corresponding trial.
Each record in the index contains a file number, which can be used to locate the corresponding case file, providing it's been preserved. Unfortunately, most case files were discarded in the past, so the criminal index is often the only trace of the court proceeding.
Before you start your research, it's good to know the hierarchy of the criminal courts in the Czech lands. At the lowest level were the district courts, which were divided into 3 classes. Between 1850-1855, only district courts of the 1st class, also called congregational courts, typically located in the seat of the political district, could judge crimes, while the other district courts judged only minor offenses and were responsible for pretrial hearings. In 1855, congregational courts were renamed as investigation courts for crimes and misdemeanors. Their role was to undertake the interrogation and preparation for a trial, but the final trial was held in the regional court. Congregational courts were abolished on 1 January 1874 and, since then, the authority of all district courts was relegated to the pursuit of minor offenses. The district courts were supervised by the regional courts, which, since 1850, were in charge of the final trial of all crimes involving capital punishment or imprisonment for 5 years or longer. After 1855, all deeds, classified according to the general penal code from 1852 as crimes and misdemeanors, were purely within the jurisdiction of the regional courts. Their verdicts could be reviewed by the superior courts located in Prague and Brno.
Criminal index 1864 (Regional archive Plzeň, German language)This example from the criminal index of the regional court in Plzeň records the final verdict for the murder of the gamekeeper Šťastný commited by Wenzl Baumann. By verdict on 25 April 1864, number 1470, Wenzl Baumann was sentenced to sixteen years in a heavy prison.
Criminal index 1864 (National archive Prague, German language)The verdict set by the regional court in Plzeň in the matter of the murder of the gamekeeper Šťastný was verified by the superior court in Prague.
|WHY were they collected?||Facilitated easy search of court files by offender's surname|
|WHEN were they collected?||1850 to present|
|WHO collected the records?||District courts, Regional courts, and Land superior courts|
|WHAT information can be found?||Final verdict of the offender, case file number|
|In which ARCHIVES are they held?||District archives (district courts), regional archives (regional courts), National archive (Land superior court)|
|In which archive FILES can they be found?||Courts|
|LANGUAGE of records||Czech, German|
|What must be KNOWN before getting started?||Records are kept in alphabetical order, so the surname, the place, and approximate time when the crime happened is enough to start|
|Czech expression||Trestní index (plural = Trestní indexy)|
|German expression||Straf index|