When does the “reasonable doubt” test end?

So far, I’ve had a self-imposed limit on the content of my blog: a self-limit keeping my views and subjects to the life of the church and my role as a Mid-Council leader. Today, I feel the need to lift the restriction.

I need to ask some questions of elected officials and particularly, the judiciary of our nation: When does the ‘reasonable doubt’ requirement end? Does the reasonable doubt standard cease to matter when a jury reaches the conclusion of guilt or innocence? Can an appeal of a death sentence also include the “reasonable doubt” test?

While I am not privy to the details of the Troy Davis case and especially the judicial proceedings, I am made aware of this case through reporting by news agencies. I am troubled to read on the morning after Davis’ execution that the Georgia board tasked with reviewing this decision was clearly split (3-2) in the question of clemency – ultimately deciding not to extend it. Something inside me asks whether the higher courts that reviewed this matter were able to consider what certainly appeared to be a measure of reasonable doubt in the deliberation of the board and therefore a reason to halt the execution in order to allow further investigation aimed at reaching a standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” in determining Mr. Davis’ fate.

Does and/or should the “reasonable doubt” standard come to an end? If it doesn’t end with a jury verdict, then how could the case of Troy Davis end as it did?  If it does end with the jury verdict, maybe we should advocate changing that standard to prevent not just an injustice but an unmerciful act to proceed.

All this may sound like a poorly worded left-wing, liberal bias, but I share these questions from a deeply theological point of view.  When humans sinned against God – when we tried to cast ourselves as gods or worship false idols – humanity came under a sentence of death. God abhors sin and as the Apostle Paul would write to the Christians in Rome, “the wages of sin is death.” Yet God did not seek justice in making us pay for our sinfulness. Instead God became human in the person of Jesus Christ who died for our sins, whose death reveals the mercy of God for us.

The reasonable doubt test never ended for God. Imagine the consequences for us all if it ever did.  So when does it end for us?


One thought on “When does the “reasonable doubt” test end?

  1. Thanks, Edward, you are right – Troy Davis’s execution seemed a real travesty of justice. And the Georgia Board was split 3-2. Was this a political power play? A racially prejudiced decision? Surely the decision should have been unanimous when you are judging a man’s life! I believe when a jury is considering the death penalty, their decision must be unanimous – beyond a reasonable doubt.

    The hatred in this world is covering us with its darkness! And yes, thank God we are judged only within his mercy.

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