Medieval law and punishment was a crude and violent business. Here are some common crimes and their punishments:
Found guilty of stealing and get your hand cut off.
Women found guilty of murder were strangled and then burnt.
Illegal hunting (poaching) came with the price of your ears.
Traitors were hung and then drawn and quartered.
With such severe consequences to crimes, I would expect that the judicial system would be careful to assure that the accused was truly guilty. But, the opposite was the case.
Prior to 1215, trial by ordeal was the common practice to determine whether or not an accused person was guilty.
Ordeal by Fire - "An accused person held a red hot iron bar and walked three paces. His hand was then bandaged and left for three days. If the wound was getting better after three days, you were innocent. If the wound had clearly not got any better, you were guilty."
Ordeal by Water - "An accused person was tied up and thrown into water. If you floated you were guilty of the crime you were accused of."
Ordeal by Combat - "This was used by noblemen who had been accused of something. They would fight in combat with their accuser. Whoever won was right. Whoever lost was usually dead at the end of the fight."
I am so thankful for trial by jury.