Today, much of our current criminal law is derived from the common law, at least in relation to its broad features. Substantive and procedural criminal law under the common law was different from that practiced in continental Europe, where investigation and criminal law enforcement was conducted mostly in private (with use of the "rack"), having private trials and private punishments. Common law criminal procedure was different, with public trials and public imposition of punishment.
But, today's criminal procedures and punishments differ in many respects from that under the common law. Currently, a criminal defendant can appear in a modern American court and refuse to enter a plea to criminal charges, which results in the court entering a plea of not guilty. But at the common law, matters were different, the purpose being to force a plea. If a defendant refused to enter a plea under common law procedures, he was carried back to prison where he was forced onto the ground, and heavy metal objects were placed on his body in a process named "pressing". This was done in an effort to force a plea, but many unfortunate defendants were "pressed to death."
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