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.
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-year temporary agency which either closed at the end of the year or was reauthorized and rolled over into the next year; 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). 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. 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."
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, 25 Codes were then in existence. That year, the Legislature replaced the Code Commission with the California Law Revision Commission. Since then, the CLRC has been tasked with regularly reviewing the Codes and proposing various amendments to the Legislature. 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. Oddly, although there is a Code of Civil Procedure, there is no Code of Criminal Procedure. 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". The Legislature also regularly enacts a variety of other things that are not laws of general application, such as annual budget bills and 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.
Currently, the state government does not publish an official hardcopy version of the codes, though unofficial annotated copies are widely available from private publishers. West publishes West's Annotated California Codes and LexisNexis publishes Deering's California Codes Annotated. The West annotated version is the more popular one; 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. 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.
Codes currently in effect
The 29 California Codes currently in effect are as follows (date of adoption by Legislature in parentheses):
- California Business and Professions Code (June 15, 1937)
- California Civil Code (March 21, 1872)
- California Code of Civil Procedure (March 11, 1872)
- California Commercial Code (June 8, 1963)
- California Corporations Code (July 1, 1947)
- California Education Code (April 7, 1943)
- California Elections Code (February 2, 1939)
- California Evidence Code (May 18, 1965)
- California Family Code (July 13, 1992)
- California Financial Code (May 15, 1951)
- California Fish and Game Code (May 21, 1957)
- California Food and Agricultural Code (March 15, 1967)
- California Government Code (April 13, 1943)
- California Harbors and Navigation Code (May 25, 1937)
- California Health and Safety Code (April 7, 1939)
- California Insurance Code (May 7, 1935)
- California Labor Code (April 24, 1937)
- California Military and Veterans Code (July 5, 1935)
- California Penal Code (February 14, 1872)
- California Probate Code (May 11, 1931)
- California Public Contract Code (September 21, 1981)
- California Public Resources Code (April 26, 1939)
- California Public Utilities Code (May 31, 1951)
- California Revenue and Taxation Code (May 16, 1939)
- California Streets and Highways Code (March 27, 1935)
- California Unemployment Insurance Code (April 21, 1953)
- California Vehicle Code (September 15, 1935)
- California Water Code (May 13, 1943)
- California Welfare and Institutions Code (May 25, 1937)
The following codes have been repealed (date of original adoption in parentheses):
- California Agricultural Code (February 7, 1933)
- California Banking Code (June 24, 1949)
- California Political Code (March 12, 1872)
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, and on March 10, 1904, it enacted a Code of Civil Procedure modeled after the California Code of Civil Procedure. Thus, California case law interpreting those codes was treated as persuasive authority in Puerto Rico.
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). 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. However, although the Penal Code of Puerto Rico underwent extensive recodification and renumbering in 1974, many of its sections still bear a strong resemblance to their California relatives.
The Code of Guam, implemented in 1933 by Governor George A. Alexander, was modeled after the California Codes. Thus, Guam courts look to California case law to assist them with interpretation of the Code of Guam.
- Nathan M. Crystal, Codification and the Rise of the Restatement Movement, 54 Wash. L. Rev. 239, 260 (1979).
- 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.
- See Special Provisions Under Former Section 1, History of the Penal Code of Puerto Rico, Title 32, Laws of Puerto Rico Annotated.
- See Special Provisions Under Former Section 1, History of the Code of Civil Procedure—Spanish Law, Title 33, Laws of Puerto Rico Annotated.
- People v. Cirino, 69 P.R.R. 488 (1949).
- 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").
- 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.
- 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[ ].”).