Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Trayvon Martin Controversy and Biblical Justice: Part 1: Witnesses/Evidence

by Steve C. Halbrook
posts in this series (part 1part 2part 3part 4)

With George Zimmerman being justly acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin, a large number of Americans eager to indulge in their depravity have wasted no time in insisting on Zimmerman's guiltwith some going so far as to advocate Zimmerman's murder. 

The motives can vary from racism towards whites (or even Hispanics; Zimmerman is considered a "white Hispanic"), to hostility to self-defense. In addition, some of Zimmerman's critics may be deceived by liberal propaganda. But whatever the case, a great injustice has been done: men have hastily condemned Zimmermanin total disregard of the known facts. 

And the damage is irreparable. Even though he has been acquitted, Zimmerman faces the rest of his life as a societal outcast. In the eyes of many, he will always be a racist and a murderer, which means he will have to keep looking over his shoulder for those seeking “righteous" vengeance. 

Zimmerman, in short, is faced with the same fears Cain had after murdering Abelliving his life as a fugitive that others want to kill.[1] Only unlike Cainwho we know was guiltyZimmerman's guilt has not been proven. 

The blatantly unjust way in which much of American society has treated Zimmerman gives us occasion to consider just how the Trayvon Martin incident ought to be treated. And that turns us to God’s wordthe only true, objective standard of justice.

Here in part one, we begin the series with witnesses/evidence.


Legally speaking, the testimony of two or three witnesses, and/or confession or material evidence, are necessary for it to even be possible to try (let alone punishsomeone for a crime. Regarding witnesses, Scripture says: 
A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established. (Deuteronomy 19:15; see also Deut. 17:6, Hebrews 10:28)
Material evidence, according to Vern S. Poythress, might also be considered: 
If I am correct in thinking that independent corroborating evidence is the important issue, material evidence such as fingerprints might also be used as a substitute at times for a human witness (such appears to be the case in 1 John 5:8-9; Deuteronomy 22:13-17).[2] 
(If in fact material evidence could be considered, there should be safeguards to protect the accused from counterfeit evidence. For instance, perhaps the authenticity of fingerprints should be confirmed by two or three fingerprint specialists who would be “witnesses” to the fingerprints' legitimacy.)

Also, Joe Morecraft holds that confession, when uncoerced, is acceptable. He points to Achan’s confession in Joshua 7:19-26, and adds, 
The law of God protects the individual against forced confession. He is protected from the state compelling self-incrimination. This protection cannot be found outside the Biblical legal tradition.[3] 

Zimmerman is faced with the fears that Cain (depicted
above) had after murdering Abel--living his life as a
fugitive who others want to kill. Only unlike Cain--
who we know was guilty--Zimmerman's
guilt has not been proven.

(Note: having a general inclination to a certain crime does not constitute guilt. For example, just because someone has a track record of being violent, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he attacked someone just because he was accused of doing so on a particular occasion. Violent people don’t attack people every single second of the day, and thus they don't do so in every conceivable situation. Similarly, just because someone has a track record as a fornicator, it doesn’t necessarily mean he committed fornication just because he was accused of doing so on a particular occasion. Fornicators don’t commit fornication every single second of the day, and thus in every conceivable situation. No one, not even those with bad track records, are immune to the maliciousness of false witnesses.)

Thus regarding the death of Trayvon Martin, Zimmerman would have to be proved guilty by witnesses, confession, and/or material evidence. Mere assertions that Zimmerman murdered Trayvon by slanderers, opportunists, and the deceived do not prove guilt. And thus far, no evidence has demonstrateed that Zimmerman's killing of Trayvon was not out of self-defense.  

Witnesses in a trial must bear cross examination to ascertain the legitimacy of their testimonies. We see this in debates all the time: A person can seem to make an airtight case for something, until his opponent exposes the fallacies and inconsistencies in his arguments. Scripture says: “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” (Proverbs 18:17)

That witnesses themselves should be subject to scrutiny is seen in Deuteronomy 19:16-21, which reads:
If a malicious witness arises to accuse a person of wrongdoing, then both parties to the dispute shall appear before the Lord, before the priests and the judges who are in office in those days. The judges shall inquire diligently, and if the witness is a false witness and has accused his brother falsely,  then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother. So you shall purge the evil from your midst. And the rest shall hear and fear, and shall never again commit any such evil among you.  Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
We must quickly point out the difference between a malicious witness and one who is confused. A confused witness innocently mistakes facts; a malicious witness, as verse 19 tells us, intends to harm the accused ("then you shall do to him as he had meant to do to his brother"). On confused witnesses, R. J. Rushdoony writes that
this law deals with perjury, not with errors. In the course of testimony, some witnesses, frightened and intimidated, sometimes confuse details. Such errors do not mean a sustained false testimony but an incidental error, a very different thing.[4]
Obviously, so that they do not unjustly condemn witnesses, courts must be very careful in distinguishing between honestly mistaken witnesses and malicious witnesses.

Having raised the reality of false witnesses, Deuteronomy 19 both assumes the possibility of false witnesses, as well as the need to detect them. Judges then should take the necessary steps to ascertain the credibility of a witness’s evidence.

Note that if one is proven to be a malicious false witness, the punishment threatened against the accused should instead be inflicted on that false witness.

This means that according to biblical law, in capital cases, those proven to be malicious false witnesses should be executed. In a biblical society, the Zimmerman case would be a capital case, since Zimmerman is accused of murder, and the Bible considers murder to be a crime worthy of death (Genesis 9:6). And so witnesses who deliberately attempt to use the state as a means to murder an innocent person should themselves be executed by the state.

Curious: of the multitude of those accusing Zimmerman of murder without evidence, how many, if they testified in court, would be considered malicious witnesses? One thing is for sure: if they were in fact shown to be malicious witnesses, the state would justly have them executed.

In part two, we plan to cover judges.


[1] "Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear.Behold,you have driven me today away from the ground, and from your face I shall be hidden. I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me.” (Genesis 4:13, 14)
[2] Vern S. Poythress, The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1991), 160.
[3] Joe Morecraft, III, Deuteronomy: God's Covenant of Love (Unpublished notes from Chalcedon Presbyterian Church), 53.
[4] Rousas John Rushdoony, Commentaries on the Pentateuch: Deuteronomy (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2008), 292.

photo credit: 
National Monument to the Forefathers in Plymouth, MA
©  Raime / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY -SA 3.0)


Anonymous said...

Very nicely written.

Linked here:

Anonymous said...

So, what ought we to think about the following to me from a friend:

While I am certainly sympathetic with the outcome in the Zimmerman trial, please help me consider my "sympathies" in light of Exodus 21.18-19.

I have reviewed Rushdoony's commentary ad loc. I have also reviewed "Justice and Compassion in Biblical Law" by Richard Hiers (more liberal than I usually tolerate). (Calvin ad loc was not specific enough to be useful for this purpose).

So here's the thing, pursuant to Biblical law Zimmerman committed a crime worthy of death. If Martin had not died, Zimmerman would've been liable for Martin's damages. Hiers makes an interesting observation that the "aggressor," or "the one who started it" is not a factor in biblical law. To deter "mutual affray" or "brawling" Biblical law makes the victor responsible for the injuries of the loser. Martin was clearly the loser, and Zimmerman should have "died the death." (Rushdoony notes the whole chapter is about those who are deserving of death with the exception for the man who was beaten, but did not die, and other exceptions).

How do we reconcile this with our initial impulse to be for Zimmerman and against this thuggish, brutish child?

John Lofton, Recovering Republican
Active Facebook Wall

Steve C. Halbrook said...

Hi John,
I can see this incident either applying to the unnecessary brawling scenario that you raised, or to necessary self-defense (which often includes brawling). Only God and Zimmerman know. However, absent witnesses that can prove that Zimmerman did not need to shoot Trayvon, I don't see how the legal system can punish him. What do you think?

Anonymous said...

Might this be a "city of refuge" situation?

Steve C. Halbrook said...

Justin, yes, I think principles of the cities of refuge should apply here; the state should provide for Zimmerman's protection to protect him from assassins. I plan to touch on this more in this series.

Anonymous said...