The Enemy Within
Law in the Empire
The various law enforcement agencies- roadwarderns, the local town and city watches, and so on- have more than enough to keep them busy, and often operate on the principle of a suspect being guilty unless proves innocent. Individuals need to be very careful when dealing with the law. Even if they are innocent, behaving with arrogance and condescension is the surest way to get themselves arrested.
Guilty characters, on the other hand, need to tread even more cautiously. If the crime is a trivial one, bribery is a possibility- especially if presented as payment of an on-the-spot ‘fine’. If the bribe attempt fails, however, things are going to be a whole lot worse. More serious crimes- theft, breaking-and-entering, and so on- often (but not always) end in a trial before the nearest magistrate. But if the character resists arrest, the lawmen are likely to decide to dispense justice on the spot, which usually ends in burial in an unmarked grave! Crimes such as horse-stealing, murder and so on, are regarded as so heinous that the arresting party is actually expected, more often than not, to deal with the criminal on the spot.
Arrested characters may or may not be tried according to their social position and the evidence against them. Unless there is incontrovertible evidence against a noble or wealthy merchant, these people often never come to trial, a few well-placed Crowns being sufficient to have proceedings dropped. The very poor tend not to reach court either; they either languish in prison for years or end up in a penal colony breaking up rocks to repair the roads. Occasionally one of the poor placed on trial to take the rap of a guilty noble who has bribed his way out of trouble. It is usually the not-so-rich who end up in court, faced with a fair assortment of charges (it is customary to tag on as many charges to the main one as possible; to cover any previous unsolved crimes)
Characters brought to trial are likely to face prolonged and costly proceedings. Regardless of any evidence, characters without substantial funds or a public reputation are likely to be found guilty unless there is another suspect available (preferably of lesser social standing). Depending on the nature of the crime, the verdict will usually be execution or a long period of incarceration. Occasionally, poor, innocent characters do go free, but more often they end up being punished for crimes they did not commit.