The Dilemma of “Reasonable Doubt”

Verla--head onAs I write this post, the Internet, the media, and the public in general, are aflame with outrage over the verdict in the Casey Anthony trial and the fact that she’ll go free in less than a week. 

For nearly seven weeks the public was fixated on the soap-opera-like case of the young Florida mom accused of killing her 2-year old daughter, dumping her body in a swamp, and then partying hearty before reporting her daughter missing 31 days later.

Interest in the trial rocketed the ratings of media outlets to their highest enjoyed in years. When the verdict of not guilty came after a mere ten hours of deliberation, the media frenzy was reminiscent of what happened after the O. J. Simpson trial.  

An avalanche of questions ensued. “How could they find her not guilty? What were they thinking? What kind of jury would acquit a baby killer?” I wasn’t in the jury room for deliberations, but it’s fair to say the jury was thinking about “beyond a reasonable doubt,” that threshold of proof required in criminal cases to justify a guilty verdict. Not guilty beyond all doubt, just reasonable doubt.

I hate reasonable doubt. It feels like it gives an “out” to criminals. In civil proceedings, the level of proof required in order for a defendant to be found guilty can be as minimal as finding the defendant more likely than not of committing the wrong with which they are charged. But in criminal proceedings, the bar is set higher for a guilty verdict. The defendant must be guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Here’s a thought. What if you had to defend yourself in a criminal proceeding against charges of fraud–of fraudulently masquerading as a Christian when, in fact, your words and actions don’t support that you’re a Christian. Would there be enough evidence to convict you?

The prosecution, in order to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you are not a real believer would likely subpoena your phone records and e-mails to get to the question of character. They might investigate your financial records to see how you spend your money and check your calendar to see how you spend you time and with whom. They would talk to your friends and neighbors and co-workers to ask how you act under pressure, who you admire, and what kind of entertainment you like.

Your defense attorney, on the other hand, might gather evidence to prove you make it to church fairly regularly, you gave to the building fund last year, and you drop a few bills in the offering plate when you are able. You own a Bible…somewhere. Isn’t that enough to demonstrate that you are, in fact, a bona fide follower of Jesus Christ?

Let’s say the prosecution then takes weeks to trot out a slew of witnesses damaging to your cause. The defense calls only one witness, Jesus Christ.

Jesus takes the stand on your behalf, to say that, yes, you are indeed one of His. He’ll vouch for you. In fact, in the event a jury of your peers finds you guilty, He’d like to assume the penalty for you—not because you deserve it, but because you two have entered into a partnership. Granted, He says, you haven’t exactly been living up to your end of the bargain. But He came to court today with extra grace and forgiveness, if you’d like another chance to get it right.

The jury deliberates less than an hour. (If the Son of God vouches for you, how can you be a fraud?) You are acquitted, thanks to Jesus. You’re free to go on with your life.

In your heart, though, you know you didn’t deserve to be acquitted. Jesus bailed you out…again. And you also know the grace He brought to court did not come cheap. It cost Him His life. Will that make a difference now in how you live? Or will you get away with murder?

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