My appearance in 1996Wayne Stegall

Copyright 2011 by Wayne Stegall
Created July 7, 2011.  See Document History at end for details.

Unreasonable Doubt

In the outcome of the trial of Casey Anthony on July 5, 2011, it seems that reasonable doubt has acquitted a defendant many thought guilty.  Reasonable, a mathematically vague word at best, seems a moderate concept, one not as extreme as the parts per million magnitude that is currently assigned to its association with legal doubt.  How can reasonable be so extreme, except there be an equally extreme sleight of words.

I have read the Constitution at times and do not recall it citing this term.  Many law precepts have developed as a result of the practice of use, as our system regards the sum of past verdicts to be a body of law unto itself apart from any legislative process.  The concept of reasonable doubt gained legal validity by use by this principle until the Supreme Court validated it concretely in 1970.

James Q. Whitman of the Yale Law School attributes this term as originating from the Christian world view prevalent at the time of the founding of our country.1  Juries were actually reluctant to pass judgment on felons for fear of wronging a possible innocent.  For this reason, prosecutors argued "reasonable doubt" to help Christian jurors overcome moral difficulties in passing judgment.

At issue was moral certainty.  To commit some act in spite of questions of conscience without moral certainty is to endanger one's soul.  Therefore, making the more certain of ambiguous moral choices is to guard one's soul.  The juror who condemned the accused with thoughts that he may actually be innocent then committed sin, making acquittal the default moral choice.

Reasonable doubt was then a religious argument for the morality of convicting an actual criminal by arguing the moral certainty of doing so.  Surely God would not hold the fair execution of the law against those who executed it, especially as he also required the punishment of wrongdoers as much as the fairness of their prosecution.

It seems that in the rush to remove God from our society, a legal term has lost its original meaning and taken on another.  A term used during the time of the writing of the Constitution to increase odds of convicting the guilty is now most cited to protect the innocent on supposed Constitutional grounds.  A legal pundit commenting on the outcome of the Casey Anthony trial, said that our system is not meant to serve justice, but to protect the innocent.  Odd, considering their advocacy of social justice.  Perhaps he should have said that the process of law does not guarantee justice, in which case many would have seen obvious application.  In spite of these things, God requires justice.

He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? (Micah 6:8)

Perhaps due the change in meaning from that of Constitutional times, this principle should rather be called unreasonable doubt, reserving the term reasonable doubt for that which gives priority to justice in a way equally concerned with punishing the guilty as protecting the innocent.

Any original definition of reasonable doubt would also have facilitated the prosecution of the circumstantial cases that the lack of forensic science made the default in the founding years of our nation.  In the years to come, it may become more necessary to prosecute circumstantial cases.  Giving protected religious status to occult religions increases the odds of prosecuting witchcraft related crimes.  Ubiquitous2 surveillance, invisible covert technology, and electronic harassment complicate investigations sometimes producing important circumstantial evidence.  Even the economy may make forensic science too expensive for use by some localities.  All these stand to be undermined by the principle of unreasonable doubt.  If you think these unlikely, consider that a satanist in San Francisco was acquitted relating to pedophilia charges where the victims' families insisted that the charges were valid and justice had not been served.

After all this, public outrage at the outcome of Casey Anthony's trial may not be entirely about matters of law.  Two trials proceeded in parallel:  the actual legal trial and the media trial, the media trial gaining a two and a half year propaganda advantage.  Expecting the actual verdict to follow the media verdict of guilty, the actual verdict was a contradiction and a surprise.


Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.  (Ecc 8:11)

1James Q. Whitman, "The Origins of 'Reasonable Doubt,'" 2005, Yale Law School Legal Scholarship Repository.  I took to this idea easily enough to give an explanation entirely my own.
2Meaning:  so widespread as to appear present everywhere.

Document History
July 7, 2011  Created.