California Codes

The California Codes are 29 legal codes enacted by the California State Legislature, which together form the general statutory law of California. Unlike the United States Code or other U.S. state legal codes, they have never been consolidated into a single unified code. The official Codes are maintained by the California Legislative Counsel for the Legislature.

Codes currently in effect

The 29 California Codes currently in effect are as follows (date of adoption by Legislature in parentheses):

Repealed codes

The following codes have been repealed (date of original adoption in parentheses):

Influence elsewhere

The California Codes were highly influential in a number of other U.S. jurisdictions, especially Puerto Rico. For example, on March 1, 1901, Puerto Rico enacted a Penal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure which were modeled after the California Penal Code,[1][2] and on March 10, 1904, it enacted a Code of Civil Procedure modeled after the California Code of Civil Procedure.[3] Thus, California case law interpreting those codes was treated as persuasive authority in Puerto Rico.[4]

In 1941, the Puerto Rican Legislative Assembly joined the nationwide movement towards transferring civil procedure and evidentiary law into a system of rules promulgated by the courts, then abolished the judicial power to promulgate rules in 1946, then reinstated it in 1952 (subject to the right of the legislature to amend court rules before they went into effect).[3] Eventually, after much of its content was superseded by the Rules of Civil Procedure and the Rules of Evidence, most of the Code of Civil Procedure of Puerto Rico was rendered obsolete and was therefore repealed.[3] However, although the Penal Code of Puerto Rico underwent extensive recodification and renumbering in 1974,[2] many of its sections still bear a strong resemblance to their California relatives.[5]

The Code of Guam, implemented in 1933 by Governor George A. Alexander, was modeled after the California Codes.[6] Thus, Guam courts look to California case law to assist them with interpretation of the Code of Guam.[7]


In 1868, the California Legislature authorized the first of many ad hoc Code Commissions to begin the process of codifying California law. Each Code Commission was a one- or two-year temporary agency which either closed at the end of the authorized period or was reauthorized and rolled over into the next period; thus, in some years there was no Code Commission. The first four codes enacted in 1872 were the Civil Code, the Code of Civil Procedure, the Penal Code, and the Political Code (which later became the Elections Code).[8] Statutes that did not fit these categories were simply left uncodified in the California Statutes.

The four original California Codes were not drafted from scratch, but were mostly adapted by the Code Commission from codes prepared for the state of New York by the great law reformer David Dudley Field II.[8] As a result of the Gold Rush, many New York lawyers had migrated to California, including Field's brother, Stephen Johnson Field, who would ultimately serve as California's fifth Chief Justice before being appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The strong New York influence on early California law started with the California Practice Act of 1851 (drafted with the help of Stephen Field), which was directly based upon the New York Code of Civil Procedure of 1850 (the Field Code). In turn, it was the California Practice Act that served as the foundation of the California Code of Civil Procedure. New York never enacted Field's proposed civil or political codes, and belatedly enacted his proposed penal and criminal procedure codes only after California, but they were the basis of the codes enacted by California in 1872.

As noted above, the initial four codes were not fully comprehensive. As a result, California statutory law became incredibly disorganized as uncodified statutes continued to pile up in the California Statutes. After many years of on-and-off Code Commissions, the California Code Commission was finally established as a permanent government agency in 1929. In its first report, the Commission stated: "The California statutory law is in a deplorable condition . . . law writers and publishers unite in considering it the worst statutory law in the country."[9] To staff the new permanent incarnation of the Code Commission, the state Legislature simply appointed the California Legislative Counsel as the secretary of the Commission. Thus, as a practical matter, most of the real work was done by the Legislative Counsel's assistants and then approved by the Code Commissioners.

The Commission spent the next 24 years analyzing the massive body of uncodified law in the California Statutes and drafting almost all the other codes. By 1953, when the Code Commission completed its assigned task and issued its final report on September 1 of that year, 25 Codes were then in existence.[8] That year, the Legislature replaced the Code Commission with the California Law Revision Commission.[8] Since then, the CLRC has been tasked with regularly reviewing the Codes and proposing various amendments to the Legislature.[8] Most of these are simple maintenance amendments to ensure that statutory cross-references are properly updated to add new laws or omit laws which no longer exist.

The newest code is the Family Code, which was split off from the Civil Code in 1994. Although there is a Code of Civil Procedure, there is no Code of Criminal Procedure.[1] Instead, criminal procedure in California is codified in Part 2 of the Penal Code, while Part 1 is devoted to substantive criminal law.


The Codes contain, or are supposed to only contain general statutory law, with the emphasis on the word "general".[8] The Legislature also regularly enacts a variety of other things that are not laws of general application, such as annual budget bills, appropriation bills for specific periods of time, acts authorizing the purchase or disposition of land by the state government, and acts authorizing the issuance of bonds which terminate automatically upon repayment of the bonds.[8] The Legislature also regularly approves resolutions honoring the accomplishments of various distinguished persons. Because of their limited application, all those things do not go into the Codes.

The Codes form an important part of California law. However, they must be read in combination with the federal and state constitutions, federal and state case law, and the California Code of Regulations, in order to understand how they are actually interpreted and enforced in court. The Civil Code is particularly difficult to understand since the Supreme Court of California has treated parts of it like a mere restatement of the common law. In contrast, other codes, such as the Probate Code and the Evidence Code, are considered to have fully displaced the common law, meaning that cases interpreting their provisions always try to give effect whenever possible to the Legislature's intent.

The state government does not publish an official set of the Codes.[8] The original four codes were printed as separate state documents in 1872 (but not as part of the California Statutes), and were also published by commercial publishers in various versions, including as a set in 1872.[8] In lieu of an official set, unofficial annotated codes are widely available from private publishers. [8] West publishes West's Annotated California Codes and LexisNexis publishes Deering's California Codes Annotated.[8] Although Deering's is much older,[8] West is the more popular of the two annotated codes; it is available throughout California at most large public libraries, and is also available throughout the U.S. at virtually all large law libraries.

The state Legislative Counsel maintains an online copy of the codes (see link below), but the online copy lacks the detailed annotations which are often essential to understanding the text of the codes.

There are also a handful of relatively minor statutes which were never codified and are not included in the Legislative Counsel's online copy, but probably should have been codified as they are laws of general application.[8] For example, certain initiative acts could not be codified by an act of the Legislature because they were originally enacted by popular vote of the electorate.[8] The final Code Commission report of September 1, 1953 recommended that such statutes should be published in an appendix to whichever code they are most relevant and not grouped into a separate volume.[8] The unofficial annotated codes include those statutes either as appendixes to the codes in which they probably should have been codified, or within annotations to particular code sections; Deering's also prints the uncodified initiative acts in a separate volume.[8]

See also


  1. 1 2 See Paragraph 1, Annotations Under Former Section 10, Title 33, Laws of Puerto Rico Annotated. This source notes that the Puerto Rico Penal Code and Code of Criminal Procedure as enacted in 1902 were directly drawn from the California Penal Code. But the Puerto Rico codification commission decided to part ways with California by splitting the procedural provisions into a separate Code of Criminal Procedure, since the population had been accustomed to having separate substantive and procedural criminal codes under the previous Spanish government.
  2. 1 2 See Special Provisions Under Former Section 1, History of the Penal Code of Puerto Rico, Title 32, Laws of Puerto Rico Annotated.
  3. 1 2 3 See Special Provisions Under Former Section 1, History of the Code of Civil Procedure—Spanish Law, Title 33, Laws of Puerto Rico Annotated.
  4. People v. Cirino, 69 P.R.R. 488 (1949).
  5. Compare Cal. Pen. Code § 187(a) ("Murder is the unlawful killing of a human being, or a fetus, with malice aforethought") to 33 L.P.R.A. § 4001 ("Murder is the killing of a human being with malice aforethought").
  6. Saussotte, Marguerite (12 August 2010). "US Naval Era: Development of the Code of Guam". Guampedia. Guam: University of Guam. Archived from the original on 11 May 2011. Retrieved 11 May 2011.
  7. See Sumitomo Constr. Co., Ltd. v. Zhong Ye, Inc., 1997 Guam 8; 1997 WL 471506, at *2 (Guam 1997) (“[W]hen a legislature adopts a statute which is identical or similar to one in effect in another jurisdiction, it is presumed that the adopting jurisdiction applies the construction placed on the statute by the originating jurisdiction.”); see also Fajardo v. Liberty House Guam, 2000 Guam 4; 2000 WL 38719, at *4-5 (Guam 2000) (applying California case law where the Guam statute mirrored a California statute and “there is no compelling reason to deviate from [California’s] interpretation of th[e] statute[ ].”).
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 Martin, Daniel W. (2006). Henke's California Law Guide (8th ed.). Newark: Matthew Bender & Co. pp. 45–67. ISBN 08205-7595-X.
  9. Nathan M. Crystal, Codification and the Rise of the Restatement Movement, 54 Wash. L. Rev. 239, 260 (1979).

External links

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