Day 14 Devotional & Discussion – March 20, 2014

Exodus 20:16Deuteronomy 19:15-21

Anyone can accuse another person of a crime, but God’s law ensured that there were protections for the accused.  One person’s word was not enough.  God required full investigations in case of a dispute.  God was so concerned about false testimony that a law against it made the Top 10.  And false witnesses were dealt with severely.  In fact, in this instance, the ‘eye for an eye” mandate was to meant to discourage people from making false charges.

What protections are in place for people accused of a crime today?  We say that people are innocent until proven guilty, yet prosecutors often want to avoid trials and intimidate people to take a plea bargain.  And because poor people often end up with Public Defenders that do not have the time to adequately inform them of their rights, they often take the plea deal, losing all rights to appeal.

We all know of stories where a “victim” has accused someone of a crime only to find out later that it was not true.  Yet, even the accusation is  powerful enough to destroy people’s reputations.

How could God’s law help to rectify these scenarios?  What recourse is available for people who are falsely accused?

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5 comments

  1. Deuteronomy 19:18-19 state that an accuser who is found to be lying must receive the same sentence that would have been given to the accused. Wow! That is justice! People might think twice about lying in court if that were implemented today. Perjury now accrues such a minor sentence, and coercion by the police force is just another form of lying but which is more calculating and intentional.

  2. Very interesting point about the “eye for and eye” passage. It is so helpful to know the context. So that was meant to discourage people from false witness. The text is quite clear about it. You give false witness in a court case, and you receive the punishment that was slated for the accused. But wouldn’t the Compact suggest that those who give false witness should receive mercy?

    At what point does the application of mercy cross a line into lawlessness? Or am I over-thinking it?

    No doubt that false witness is wrong. But any sin is wrong. Any crime is wrong. It seems to me that crime and punishment is not the issue so much as crime and unfair punishment is the issue. Or no crime but still punishment (because of false witness, perhaps) is the issue.

    I like the idea that you sent in the article “Giving up Punishment for Lent”. It is a provocative title, but what it specifically refers to is “Giving up Unfair/Unjust Punishment Practices for Lent”. I’ve thought about saying to my kids that I’m giving up punishment for Lent. They’ll rejoice. Our house is anarchic enough with two parents trying to dole out punishment. Imagine taking the punishment away! Maybe I’m way off here and the kids would self-govern just fine. But Lord of the Flies comes to mind.

    Applying that to an entire country, I think that there must be an ethical expression of crime and punishment that takes fairness, justice and mercy into account. I believe that was God’s heart in these passages. The principle we can surmise is that there should be protection for the accused. That protection goes well beyond just dealing with false witness. The Law points out false witness as a prevalent injustice that needs to be dealt with, but false witness should be seen as an illustration of a larger category of injustice. That category would be anything that is done to unfairly, unethically damage the accused and accuser.

    I find it so complicated! And yet so needed.

    1. I remember someone saying that the 10 commandments reveal the nature of God. I believe the strong prohibition against bearing false witness is because God delights in truth and integrity. A false witness attacks both those qualities. Truth is subverted by the accuser in order to receive some kind of personal gain. An attack on someone’s character and integrity creates ripples that potentially impact a person negatively the rest of his/her life and destroys cohesiveness within the community. I believe that is why God also has plenty to say about gossip. When we fail to protect people from the poison of false accusation or even the spread of stories, the entire community is at risk of self-destruction.

      The Compact does not suggest that we should remove all the boundaries. God places boundaries around behavior to protect the most vulnerable and to ensure a healthy community. It does suggest that we need to approach enforcement and correction with restoration as the goal–not simply punishment and retribution.

  3. I just learned today that in Illinois a person can be held for up to 30 days in jail without being formally charged with a crime! So much for “innocent until proven guilty”. People who get caught in that web are at risk of losing their jobs, their homes, their support networks. Years ago, I was stopped in a store by the police because I fit the description of someone who was robbing stores in the area. I was innocent, but looking back, it was God’s grace that I didn’t get taken in for questioning or worse. I had my “clergy card” and the police trusted my word. I wonder now what would have happened if I hadn’t had the card. I also understand why people fear being stopped by the police.

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