Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Example Why Religious Literacy for Law Students Matters - Jurors and Reasonable Doubt

I have been enjoying Dan Crane posts over at  CENTER FOR LAW AND RELIGION FORUM

He has a good post up called Religious Literacy Training for Law Students?  

He makes the point that Law Profs are complaining that they are getting students that are not educated in things that normally they would have picked up in college or even high school. That can be in economics or in this case religion. He makes a good case a certain amount of religious literacy is needed to see how our law developed. He goes into such things as contract laws and an very intriguing example as to our legal concept of reasonable doubt. I have some comments to add on that after the excerpt

One wonderful example:  In The Origins Reasonable Doubt:  Theological Roots of the Criminal Trial, Yale legal historian Jim Whitman shows that our current assumptions about the reasonable doubt standard in criminal cases have the history exactly backwards.  Today, everyone assumes that the reasonable doubt standard is meant to protect the criminal defendant—to give him every benefit of the doubt and erect barriers to over-zealous prosecutors.  Whitman shows that, historically, this story has it absolutely backwards.  The reasonable doubt standard developed not for the purpose of making prosecutions harder but to make them easier.  To understand why requires a basic understanding of Christian doctrine.  In eighteenth century England, jurors took seriously Jesus’ command, “judge not or you will be judged.”  The jurors feared that if they passed a wrongful judgment of conviction—keeping in mind that Jesus himself was wrongly convicted—they themselves would be eternally damned.  The crown finally started telling juries that if they found guilt beyond any reasonable doubt, then surely they wouldn’t need to worry about damnation.  So the reasonable doubt standard came into being not to protect the criminal defendant but to facilitate convictions.

I can not tell you how that practical knowledge would have come in handy for many a lawyer. In many cases " I can't judge " is a dodge to get off jury duty.  This increases when a a person gets a sense that the trial might be of some duration.

However many hold that view in a legitimate fashion. If you are an area with a high number of African Americans this " I cant' Judge " things comes up more than with other groups.  This can create problems for the prosecutor if he is appealed ( what no blacks on the jury ) and  to a defense attorney that wanted a African American on the jury  but got the " I can 't Judge " roadblock. I use the African American example because in my area it is the demographic that this comes up most with.

That little knowledge used by a lawyer in a criminal trial might have come in real handy in their dialogue with a prospective juror. 

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