Monday, July 22, 2013

The Trayvon Martin Controversy and Biblical Justice: Part 2: Judges/Defendant Rights

In settling the dispute between the two prostitutes, King Solomon showed
himself to be an exemplary judge. Instead of being pragmatic or partial to
 either side, his sole concern was ascertaining the truth and
administering justice. 

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

We continue our analysis of the Trayvon Martin controversy and biblical justice by covering judges and defendant rights regarding double jeopardy and the right to a defense.


Scripture tells judges the following:
You shall not be partial in judgment. You shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not be intimidated by anyone, for the judgment is God's. (Deuteronomy 1:17a)
You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. (Deuteronomy 16:19) 
You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. (Leviticus 19:15)
Justice then is colorblind; judges are to examine the evidence impartiallyirrespective of the accused's skin color, religion, economic status, popularity, authority, etc. One cannot be a judge and an accuser at the same time; the judge must be neutral towards all parties. He must "inquire diligently" (Deuteronomy 19:18b), and be just as open to the accusers being guilty (of malicious false witness, per Deuteronomy 19:16-21) as he is to the accused being guilty.

Judges, then, are to “hear the small and the great alike,” and must “not be partial to the poor or defer to the great.” To do otherwise is to “pervert justice”—and thus to pervert the very reason for the court's existence.

Moreover, judges “shall not be intimidated by anyone.” Outside pressure must not determine their ruling. Thus in such cases as the Trayvon Martin case, they are not to, for instance, yield to pressure by racial demagogues, society, the media, or those who might threaten them if they don’t side against the defendant (or, for that matter, those who might threaten them for not siding for the defendant). 

And not only are judges not to be bribed monetarily, but in any other way, such as via the praise of man. For instance, judges are not to aim to please a malicious society by basing their decision on what society wants, as opposed to basing it on the facts and God's standards of justice.

Now, there may also be situations where judges ignore the merits of the case and condemn the innocent for the "greater good." For instance, a judge hearing a racially-charged trial like Zimmerman's might be tempted to condemn the accusednot due to evidence against him, but in order to avoid public backlash (e.g., race riots). (And if Zimmerman is tried again, we fear that a judge might actually do this.)

However, we are not to do evil that good may come (Romans 3:8). Evil never conquers evil: it only increases it. And Scripture says, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). Judges are to follow "Justice, and only justice ..." (Deut. 16:20a)—not justice and pragmatism combined. Obedience is ours, the results are God's; righteousness, not pragmatism, exalts a nation (Proverbs 14:34). 

Moreover, judges should fear the backlash of God's wrath more than they should fear the backlash of man. God does not take injustice lightly (Psalm 2:10-12). Remember this, judges of the earth, including those who would unjustly condemn Zimmermanor those in similar situations. 

The Christian emperor Justinian I's
civil code helped to plant seeds
for protections against double
jeopardy that we have today.
Our increasingly pagan society,
however, threatens to overturn
this important safeguard of liberty.
Defendant Rights

Courtroom justice is not only contingent upon just judges, but on granting defendants their rights as taught in Scripture. Here we cover two very important defendant rights: the right to not be subjected to double jeopardy, and the right to a defense. 

Double Jeopardy

Double jeopardy is when someone is judged twice for the same crime; by being threatened more than once with sanctions for the same crime, his life and/or liberty is "twice jeopardized."

The notion of double jeopardy is inherently tyrannical, as it allows the state to prosecute someone until the desired result, or punishment, is achieved. The court becomes a sham, a pretext for the state to persecute whomever it wishes under the cloak of justice. 

On Scripture's opposition to double jeopardy, Greg L. Bahnsen writes, 
The infliction of punishment against a person presupposes a lawful trial to determine his guilt or innocence; otherwise the "punishment" is nothing more than culpable persecution of some group against a particular individual. It is uniformly recognized that Scripture prohibits a double infliction of punishment (e.g., the substitutionary atonement of Christ rests on this cardinal point with respect to eternal judgment). Therefore, double trial (i.e., double jeopardy) is ruled out; a man once tried and sentenced is not to be subjected to further trial for the same offense. Otherwise the biblical restriction of forty stripes (Deut. 25:3) would be senseless; through retrial for the same crime a man could repeatedly be given sets of forty stripes. Thus double trial is forbidden. Now, if this protection is extended even to the guilty, to those convicted of offense, how much more should the protection be afforded to those who are acquitted as innocent? To grant this security to the convicted and withhold it from the innocent would indirectly constitute showing respect unto the wicked and a double standard of treatment (cf. Deut. 25:13-16). Therefore, to violate the prohibition of double jeopardy is to run counter to underlying principles of biblical justice. …  
Scripture illustrates for us that, in terms of the common legal practice of the Old Testament, one who had received an unfavorable verdict had the right to protect himself by appeal to a higher court; however, after a favorable verdict has been reached, the accused was not to be touched or harassed any longer (2 Sam. 14: 4-11). When no sentence had been delivered in a case which was too difficult for the judges to try, the matter could be referred to a higher court. However, once a verdict had been reached, the judgment was without appeal. Indeed, it was grave presumption and a capital crime to deviate from the verdict of the judge (Deut. 17:8-13). This means that when an accused is acquitted, is justified or declared righteous in a properly constituted court of law, it is highly immoral to disregard the judgment rendered and bring him into trial again. Only in the case of known prejudice or bribery might a verdict be challenged and the trial deemed invalid (cf. Deut. 16:18-19; 2 Chron. 19:7).[1]
The prohibition of double jeopardy is one of Christianity's great legal legacies. The church's ancient common laws, church councils, the civil code of the Christian emperor Justinian, and other Christian influences[2] laid important seeds for the freedom from unjust retrials that we still enjoy today. 

Unfortunately, America's apostasy to paganism threatens to overturn this important bulwark against tyranny. The pagan society's rejection of God is a rejection of justice (since God is the source of justice), and therefore double jeopardy protections are themselves in jeopardy. 

On this point, consider the reactions against the Zimmerman verdict. "Not guilty" is not enough for many Americans, who would prefer more trials until he is found guilty and punished (there are even talks of the federal government possibly retrying Zimmerman); or who would have vigilantes punish Zimmerman themselves, acting as judges and executioners. The widespread tolerance for such tyranny indicates America's shifting attitude towards double jeopardy.

Moses and Aaron appealing to Pharaoh for
the just release of the Israelites
The Accused's Right to a Defense

In a court setting, the accused must be allowed to defend himself. No one has more at stake than the accused. If a court cares about truth, then there is every reason for it to hear his case. The accused can shed some light on a case that can make the difference between an innocent or guilty verdict. 

Proverbs 18:17 reads: “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” The accused, and/or one or more speakers on his behalf, may offer the best arguments to debunk fallacious testimony from accusers. 

Judges, moreover, “shall hear the small and the great alike” (Deut. 1:17b). This encompasses everyone with testimony that can shed light on the case—including testimony in support of the defendant. 

And then Deuteronomy 25:1 reads, “If there is a dispute between men and they come into court and the judges decide between them, acquitting the innocent and condemning the guilty …” Judges cannot decide between parties to a dispute without hearing from both partiesthe accused included. Similarly, we read in Deuteronomy 1:16b, “Hear the cases between your brothers …” (italics mine).

Regarding the right of the accused to personally speak on his behalf, Nicodemus says in John 7:51, "Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?" And so in Scripture we find Stephen giving a lengthy defense of himself before the Sanhedrin (Acts 7). Another example is the Apostle Paul, who likewise defended himself before the Sanhedrin (Acts 23:1-6), as well as the Roman courts (Acts 24:10-21; 25:8-11; 26:1-26).

King Solomon is known for great wisdom for discerning who the mother was of a child claimed by two prostitutes (1 Kings 3:16-28). Crucial to reaching his decision was allowing both prostitutes to speak on their behalf. This gave him the information needed to reach a just verdict, of which Scripture says, "And all Israel heard of the judgment that the king had rendered, and they stood in awe of the king, because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him to do justice" (verse 28).

Regarding the right of the accused to have someone else speak on his behalf, it should be obvious that witnesses to the alleged crime should be able to testify in the defendant's favor (if the facts of the case warrant doing so). But what about a non-witness pleading on behalf of the accused (a lawyer, a good speaker, etc.)?

Scripture requires us to defend everything from our neighbor's property (Exodus 23:4) to our neighbor's life (Proverbs 24:11). Surely then we should be able to defend our neighbor in the court setting, especially considering how much is at stake. 

Scripture says, "Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy" (Proverbs 31:9). Whether or not this particular verse is directed exclusively to rulers, surely if rulers are interested in defending the rights of the poor and needy, they would encourage others to do the same by allowing them to speak on the behalf of the accusedespecially since counterarguments to accusations are helpful in arriving at truth (Proverbs 18:17); and besides, it seems unfair to allow for multiple accusers (at least two or three witnesses testifying against the defendant, the minimal number of witnesses for a conviction, Deuteronomy 19:15) without allowing the accused to have the best defense possible. 

Note that the righteous King David was willing to hear the the woman of Tekoa ostensibly speak on behalf of her son (2 Samuel 14:4-11). Also, the Pharisee Gamaliel spoke on behalf of Peter and the apostles in defense of their lives (Acts 5:34-39), which resulted in their release (verse 40). 

(Also worth consideration is the principle of the kinsman redeemer [Leviticus 25:25; Ruth 3:13]; Moses' appeal to Pharaoh for the just release of the Israelites [Exodus 5:1, etc.]; Esther's appeal to King Ahasuerus for the safety of the Jews [Esther 7:3-7]; Ebed-melech's appeal to King Zedekiah to free Jeremiah from the cistern, where he faced starvation [Jeremiah 38:7-9]; and Nicodemus' appeal to the Pharisees to not judge Christ without Him being present to defend Himself [John 7:45-51]).

And of course, the great Lord Jesus Christ advocates for His people (Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25; 1 John 2:1) (who do not deserve eternal punishment because He paid for their sins); and surely this advocacy has legal implications, as Christ 1) is to be modeled in all things, and 2) being the King of kings, is the supreme legal authority. 

Now, in regards to the Trayvon Martin controversy, the defense of the accused is meaningless for some. For Zimmerman’s uncharitable accusers—who are determined that he is guilty for murder—no amount of testimony that would even raise reasonable doubt about his guilt can suffice. However, if the roles were ever reversed, and Zimmerman's uncharitable accusers were the ones being charged for murder, would they not think differently? Would they want their right to defend themselves taken away, either actually—by state coercion—or practically—by their defense being ignored (as they have ignored Zimmerman's defense)?

In part three, we plan to discuss how the state should deal with vigilantes and slanderers who persecute the defendant. 


[1] Greg L. Bahnsen, "Double Jeopardy: A Case Study in the Influence of Christian Legislation," The Journal of Christian Reconstruction, ed. Gary North, vol. 2, no. 2 (1975): 44, 45. American Vision recently released an article titled "Double Jeopardy in jeopardy" by Rob Slane which cites the same Bahnsen article, and includes further helpful insights by Bahnsen on Scripture and double jeopardy. Slane also has helpful insights on the tyranny of double jeopardy.  
[2] Ibid., 54.

1 comment:

Scolaris Legisperitus said...

The protection against double jeopardy is also present in Article 42 of Massachusetts Body of Liberties of 1641.