Beyond Reasonable Doubt


Years ago, here in California, reporting for jury duty was different from what it is now. Then when we would receive the summons, we had to report to the assigned venue for ten days, or, if chosen to serve on a jury, throughout the duration of the trial.

Part of that process was for prospective jurists waiting in the jury room, to be selected randomly to serve on a panel. This group would go to an assigned courtroom where we satin the spectators’ chairs. From the panel a number of potential jurists would randomly be chosen and called up to the jury box. Those twelve, and the two alternates, were then questioned by the lawyers and the judge.

More than once I was included in a panel and sat in the courtroom listening to the lawyers explain law, ask questions, and dismiss various individuals from the box. (Those folk then returned to the jury room until they were impaneled again.) A new name was then chosen and the potential jurist would take the vacated spot in the box and would undergo the same questioning.

During my ten days, first in the criminal court and then later in the civil, I learned a lot about the legal system. But my point here is not to critic the various things I saw then or have seen since from sitting on other juries.

Rather, one of the most memorable learning experiences I had was from one defense and one prosecuting attorney who explained the term “reasonable doubt.”

The trial was of someone accused of murder, so these lawyers wanted to be sure the members of the jury would understand this important term, reasonable doubt.

The defense attorney explained by using an example. Let’s say there’s a swimming pool at a park or somewhere with a sign that says, Stay out of the water. On the side of the pool are clear footprints leading from the pool to your chair. Is this evidence beyond reasonable doubt that you have violated the law? At first blush, it might seem so. But what if there was a shower stall at the edge of the pool? What if there was the possibility of rain that day? I’ll add this one: what if there was a hose lying on the grass or various other people with water bottles that may have spilled? Suddenly there are more possibilities than just the one idea that the person did in fact enter the water when they weren’t allowed to do so.

The way the law reads, according to this lawyer, the jurist was bound to assume innocence—meaning that, if there were these other possible explanations, they were obligated to assume one of them, not the one indicating a law had been broken.

I was a little stunned (so much so that I remember the illustration all these years later). Who could ever be found guilty? Almost, it seemed, you needed an eye witness—well, more than one, and a camera would even be better—if you were to find a defendant guilty.

Then the prosecutor took his turn. He stood behind a podium with a microphone so everyone could hear. As all the attorneys, he looked the part of the professional: neat; nice shirt, tie, suit coat; well groomed. He had not walked to the podium because it was positioned in front of his table. In addition, he faced us. He brought our attention to his clothing, then said, What if someone told you I was wearing boxer shorts and not my suit pants, would you believe it to be true? We didn’t have eyewitness evidence that he was not in his boxer shorts. It was a possibility. Did that mean that we now had doubt that would prevent us from making a decision about how he was dressed?

No, he said, because of he word “reasonable.” There were no other attorneys in boxer shorts. In fact no other people in the courtroom or jury room or anywhere else in the courthouse wearing boxer shorts. To think that he was doing so, stretched the concept that there was reasonable doubt as to what he was wearing. In other words, he said, jurists can and should use deductive reasoning and not think they had to be at the crime scene and witness the crime if they were to arrive at a guilty verdict.

That long explanation applies not just to jurists. It applies to anyone who wants to know if God exists or not. There is abundant evidence that God exists, just not eyewitness evidence. I’ve written on this subject countless times (here’s one I recommend: “What Creation Tells Us About God”).

In one recent-ish post, I made a list of things that point to God’s existence. The first item is the intricacy, the complexity of life—of all the world, the universe, really. Nothing we know of, anywhere, came into existence unless something or someone made it. When we see a canyon, for example, we don’t think, Wow, an anomalous dent in the earth. No, we ascribe a means by which it was formed: by erosion from a river, by a flood, by wind or a meteor. Something.

Only the universe, according to atheists, has no cause. Oh, sure, the “Big Bang.” But what initiated the thing that initiated all the universe? Science has no answer. We don’t know, they say.

Which brings us back to reasonable doubt. I can see that atheists doubt God’s existence. But is it reasonable?

All known complex things — created by someone or something;
the universe — no idea how it came about (but it wasn’t God.)

Is the latter a reasonable position? I don’t see how it could be considered reasonable. Like the attorney who was in fact wearing suit pants, we potential jurists could make that conclusion without having to see him. It simply was not reasonable to believe otherwise. Logical deduction makes it clear.

Published in: on August 28, 2019 at 5:40 pm  Comments (9)  
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