Monday, January 26, 2015

A Reflection on the Words “Reasonable Doubt.”

As a criminal defense attorney the two most important words in all of criminal law and procedure is the words, “reasonable doubt.” 

Legal scholars and philosophers have thought long and hard in attempting to articulate what these two words mean.  What are these elusive ethereal words in which the criminally accuse hang their life and future upon. 

I guess in the final analysis these words can mean very little or very much to the individual juror.  Depending on the individual juror’s character, personality, education and religious beliefs it can mean many different things to different people.  On one hand when a juror has a strong sense of fairness, justice, compassion, mercy, care in  deliberation, and fear of making a mistake, that individual would probably make a good juror because the words “reasonable doubt”, would be words for the calling to perform a scared duty.  On the other hand, a juror who is not deliberative has no understanding or appreciation for justice or fairness, unmerciful, the words “reasonable doubt” would have no real meaning or understanding to such a person.

Reasonable doubt in other words is a moral certainty of correctness, of reaching a decision as to guilt or not guilt, that is a close to what a mortal human being can render, without violating his or her mortal consciousness.
Or stated more directly: Would you convict if these same set of facts were charged against you or someone you loved.  Would you want a jury to honor the reasonable doubt standard and acquit or would it not matter.

Very few people know that the origins of reasonable doubt go back many hundreds of years in history, back to the middle ages, in the time of western Christendom, when it was a mortal sin for Christians to convict someone who was innocent.  Therefore, it was mortal, or in other words, not a sin to convict someone, as long as there was any doubt in the juror’s mind which was reasonable.  In other words, as long as they had reasonable doubt they were prohibiting from rendering a guilty verdict without the penalty of mortal sin. 

Therefore, the origins of the rule were to protect the juror from eternal damnation and not the accused. In other words reasonable doubt is similar to ones conscience.  Jimmy Cricket, “let your conscience be your guide.”

Today the guilt of condemning someone is shifted like a game between the jury and the judge.  The judge says, my hands are tied, a must accept the jurors verdict, I didn’t convict him the jury did.  I have no moral responsibility to this young man.  On the other hand the game shifts to the jury which believes, I will not punish him, the judge will.  I have no mortal responsibility to this young man, I am not punishing him, I didn’t even know or could find out what his punishment was, I have no moral responsibility.  As the classical Romans pronounced.  It is the law that kills him, not you. “Lex eum occidit, non tu.”

Or consider another analogy in thinking about this concept.  The American system to a firing squad. Firing squad procedure is well known: One member of the squad is chosen to receive a blank, but no member of the squad is permitted to know precisely which of them the one who is firing the blank is. The purpose of this procedure is easy to discern: It is intended to relieve the individual squad members of a burdensome sense of moral responsibility, by allowing each one to doubt that it was he who fired the fatal shot. It offers, as we might say, a kind of moral safe harbor for the conscience of killing another human being.

No juror in a criminal jury trial is carrying blanks.  Each vote count, and each vote must be decided with moral certainty, anything else is a charade.  Your vote, remains with you forever.

Quote of the Day:

Ralph Waldo Emerson.  “God offers to every mind its choice between truth and repose.”  Those who choose repose receive release from the mandates of truth; but it is only temporary. No man or woman can reject truth forever.  Those who choose truth, on the other hand, have no rest—and so they continue to fight for justice. 

January 22, 2015
Law Office of Vincent J. Sanzone, Jr.
P.O. Box 261
277 North Broad Street
Elizabeth, N.J. 07207
(908) 354-7006

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