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The Latin term for a court of inquiry, either extraordinaria, an extraordinary commission appointed by the Senate or people for special criminal cases, or perpetua, an ordinary criminal court for certain defined offences. The first court of this kind was held B.C. 149 to try a case of extortion.

In course of time, by the laws of Gaius Gracchus and of Sulla , the number of these tribunals was increased. In Cicero's time there were eight ordinary courts to try cases of extortion, high treason (maiestas), embezzlement (peculatus), unlawful canvassing for an office (ambitus), violence (vis), assassination, poisoning, and forgery. Every quaestio had a president (see Quaesitor), either one of the praetors chosen by lot, or when the number of these was not sufficient, a iudex quaestionis, in addition to a certain number of sworn judges. See Iudex.

It was open to any one except to women, infants, and those who were infames, to begin a criminal prosecution, even if he himself had not been the party injured. There was no public prosecutor; but the State, by means of pecuniary rewards and conferring of dignities, encouraged the prosecution of criminals. If, however, the accused party was found innocent, it was open to him to prosecute his accuser for chicanery. (See Calumnia.) The case was begun by the postulatio, a request, with a statement of the crime and name of the accused, for permission to prosecute, made to the praetor at an open sitting in the market-place. If several persons offered themselves as accusers, the choice was made by divinatio (q. v.). But besides the principal accuser, others were allowed, who signed the indictment, and were therefore called subscriptores. When permission had been obtained, there followed the nominis delatio, the handing in of the indictment; the receptio and inscriptio, the reception and entry of the same in the official list by the praetor; the interrogatio, the examination (also by the praetor) of the accused, who was now reus (q. v.). Unless he pleaded guilty or clearly proved his innocence, the diei dictio, or date of hearing the case, was fixed at the earliest in ten days, in special cases not till 100 days later. It was the duty of the complainant to collect in the meantime the necessary evidence and witnesses, and for this purpose he received an official authorization. At the sitting of the court, which was held publicly by the sworn judges (cognitio), after the judges and parties had been cited, the accuser delivered his accusation in a continuous speech, the subscriptores followed him, then the accused and his patroni. The duration of these speeches (actiones) was at first unlimited, but afterwards, to correct the abuse of this privilege, a water-clock was introduced, which limited the time of each speaker; the time allowed for the defence was about a third greater than that for the accusation. Then followed the proof (probatio) of the case. For this documents, circumstantial evidence, and declarations of witnesses were used. Next, unless the case was adjourned for the production of further proof (ampliatio), or for a new trial on the third day (comperendinatio), the votes of the judges on the question of guilt or innocence were taken. The voting was usually in secret. The judges received from the president wooden tablets covered with wax, on the one side inscribed with a C (condemno, “I condemn”), on the other with an A (absolvo, “I acquit”). They erased one of these letters and threw the tablets into an urn. In cases where they were unable to decide respecting the guilt or innocence of the accused, they could signify the same by writing on the tablet the letters N. L. (non liquet).

The result of the voting was then formally proclaimed by the president; and if a fine was inflicted, the amount (litis aestimatio) was then decided by the president and the sworn judges. A man once acquitted could not be retried for the same offence unless his acquittal had been procured by collusion (see Praevaricatio) of the accuser. There was no way of altering the verdict of the sworn judges, and the punishment was exacted immediately after the sentence had been given. If it was one of degradation (infamia) or exile (interdictio aquae et ignis; see Exsilium), the man so punished could be reinstated in the rights he had forfeited (restitutio in integrum). This was done by a decree of the people; in later times, by the emperor's pardon. These courts of sworn judges lasted till the beginning of the third century A.D.

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