Letting the Guilty Go Free Can Be Very Good
Folk in the United States have been wound up over the Casey Anthony murder trial. Since the jury failed to convict the mother of murdering her four year old daughter there has been much venting of spleen. The jurors have been smeared as idiots with the IQ of brute beasts.
For our part, we believe the jury got it precisely right. One juror being interviewed afterwards was accosted by her interlocutor with the question, "Well, who did kill the child?" and she quite rightly responded, "I do not know." But not knowing is regarded by many as a fundamental dereliction of duty. The Commentariat was sure that the mother was guilty--if the jury was not equally sure it had to be either prejudiced or obtuse or both.
Yet "beyond reasonable doubt" is a very high standard of proof. The state failed to meet that standard.
There were doubts to be had in every direction. One could rightly hold the view that it was "likely" or "probable" that the mother killed her child. But that is a long way short of proving the matter beyond reasonable doubt.
For Christians letting a likely murderer go free is not a big deal. God's halls of justice are perfect, and Casey Anthony will most certainly appear there. Justice in this life can only be inadequate and incomplete. That is not something to be ashamed of--it is reality. But the state's power of bearing the sword is so momentous it is vital that people accused of crimes be presumed innocent and proof of their guilt be to a very high standard.
In the Scriptures the standard of proof required is first hand, eye witness proof--with at least two or three witnesses. If that is the standard under which someone proven guilty will subsequently be executed (Anthony was facing the death penalty) it would mean that lots of murders would go unpunished in this life. But the contrary is too awful to contemplate: that convictions and executions occur of innocent people.
The mob may bay for blood. Secular society may want its sacrifice. Police and prosecutors may want a result. Far better to maintain a very high standard of proof, and risk the guilty going free, than wrongly convicting the innocent. Because we know that the Judge of all the earth will do right, the Christian faith will always demand the highest standards of proof in order to convict. But for secular Unbelieving society the burden of proof will always be eroded over time because justice in the life is the only justice there is. Better to punish the innocent, then, than risk letting the guilty go free.