Guilt, Innocence and Due Process
July 07, 2011
At the end of the long and emotionally charged murder trial of Casey Anthony, a prominent CNN reporter laid aside any shred of journalistic objectivity and fumed, “Somewhere out there, the Devil is dancing tonight.”
The reporter was directing her anger at the jury, which found Ms. Anthony innocent of the murder of her young daughter. But after 33 days in court and eleven hours of deliberation, the jury simply found too many holes in the evidence to prove that Anthony was guilty beyond all reasonable doubt.
Now the millions of Americans who followed the made-for-TV drama on cable news, there was no doubt that Ms. Anthony was guilty. And why would they think otherwise?
The tragic death occurred almost three years ago. Since then, the media have breathlessly covered the sad story. They crammed every question of innocence and guilt and the details of the murder into emotionally charged, ratings-friendly, five-minute blocks. Let’s be generous and say that this kind of coverage merely fuels public outrage -- and it certainly does nothing to help the public rationally weigh the evidence of the case.
But then again, that’s not the public’s, or the media’s, job.
That job belongs to the judge and jury, thank God. And I mean that literally. Standards of evidence are so stringent in our legal system because the stakes are so high: depriving a person of his liberty or even his life.
Before that happens, the elements of the crime, all of them, must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. If this sounds “soft” to you, then the Old Testament was “soft.” We find in Numbers 35 and Deuteronomy 17 the requirement that there be more than one eyewitness to convict anyone of murder. God so abhors convicting the innocent that bearing false witness in a capital case is a capital offense in itself!
Contrary to the CNN reporter’s claim about Satan, what truly puts a giddyup in the Devil’s two-step is lawlessness and chaos, which is why God instituted government and gave us law.
But, in the Biblical view, law is about more than preserving order, as important as that is -- it is about establishing justice, which means requiring rules, not just about right and wrong, but how we determine who is right and who is wrong.
Think about the prophets: in addition to denouncing Israel’s apostasy and infidelity, they denounced wrong-doing in the courts and the misdeeds of those entrusted with establishing justice.
Hard as it may be to accept, a properly-functioning justice system will make mistakes: we are talking about human beings, after all. Sometimes people we believe to be guilty will go free.
And sometimes prosecutors are overzealous, as we saw in the case of Dominque Strauss-Kahn, former head of the International Monetary Fund. His behavior may have been deplorable, but the prosecutors were irresponsible.
Then there are those wrongly-convicted, some of whom may be sitting on death row.
As a Christian, it’s these miscarriages of justice that disturb me more. If Anthony is guilty, she’s got to live with the consequences and the nightmares of what she did. I am confident that God will see that justice is ultimately done. That’s His job. Ours is working for a society where justice, as the Scriptures define it, is done today.