The Sceptic Blog

Random thoughts of a random chappy

Innocent or mostly innocent?

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  1. In a recent criminal trial in America attracting considerable media interest, the defendant was acquitted; but his acquittal was accompanied by some public speculation that he may have been guilty of offences despite the fact that the prosecution had failed to prove its case in respect of the charges preferred.
  2. The Jewish approach to a situation like this is clear.
  3. The secular rule against double jeopardy, a person being tried more than once for the same crime, is found, but with variations, in Jewish law.  In particular, while we will always reopen a criminal matter to turn a guilty verdict into an acquittal, we will not reopen an acquittal.
  4. Once a person’s acquittal is recorded, he must be allowed to function, in the same way as any other person, without aspersions being cast against him extra-judicially and in a manner which carries neither accountability or responsibility.  So a former juror, or any other person, who accuses an acquitted defendant of wrong-doing is exposed to the same potential liability in Jewish law for defamation, and has to abide by the same laws of permitted speech, as apply in relation to anyone else.
  5. However, it can of course in theory happen that a defendant is acquitted for technical reasons, while the court is satisfied beyond doubt that he was guilty of a crime.  In secular law, for example, there can be technical reasons for the inadmissibility of evidence whose veracity nobody doubts.  And in Jewish law there may, for example, be a family relationship between the only two available witnesses which prevents the evidence of both being admitted; or there may have been a deficiency in the terms in which the requisite warning was administered.
  6. In such a case Jewish law allows the court to impose whatever measures – including imprisonment – it considers necessary for the protection of society.  Anyone who believes that the verdict may leave unanswered questions of public safety is therefore able to apply to the courts for relief: but not to indulge in private extra-judicial accusations.
  7. In this way the Torah gives unlimited powers to the judicial institutions to preserve the rule of law and to protect the public, while at the same time ensuring that individuals have their liberty and reputation protected from interference otherwise than in accordance with due judicial process.
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Written by Daniel Greenberg

June 19, 2005 at 12:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Tagged with ,

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