The Facts Are in the Questions – a look at courtrooms and faith

Getting the Preliminaries Right

I had no experience as a judge when I started. That’s to be expected. Becoming a judge is how one learns what it is like to be a judge. But I also had relatively little experience as a lawyer, having been an attorney less than eight years when I was appointed by the governor to the bench in 1995.

Me in 1995. I don’t look this young anymore.

And when it came to criminal law, I had no experience since my first year of law school when I took a semester of basic criminal law. So what assignment did I ask for when I took the bench? Criminal law. I figured if I messed up it would be put down to being the new guy.

A typical day for a judge in a criminal assignment includes the preliminary hearing. This is where the prosecution has to put on sufficient evidence to show that there is a reason – or probable cause – to go to trial. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t, but it’s up to the judge to make the call. The amount of evidence presented is almost always quite a bit less than would be presented at trial, sometimes only the arresting officer testifying about the circumstances leading to the arrest.

Of course, if a judge says the case can go to trial the standard there is much higher. Juries can – and do at times – find that the evidence does not prove the charge beyond a reasonable doubt. I remind the jurors at trial that the fact we are there for trial is not evidence that the person is guilty. They can rely only on the evidence presented at trial through witnesses and exhibits. It may or may not rise to the level of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. So a person held over for trial by a judge after a preliminary hearing may very well be found not guilty by the jury at trial.

But back to the preliminary hearings, where the judge and jury have to follow the same process: make no conclusions until after all the evidence is in and you have an opportunity to deliberate on it. I found that when I started conducting preliminary hearings I would often think I knew exactly where things were going. I would have to remind myself to keep an open mind and wait for all the evidence because experience soon taught me that the direction of evidence could change dramatically from one point to another in the hearing.

It’s a lot like the advice private investigator Maisy Dobbs received from her mentor, Maurice Blanche:

“Truth walks toward us on the paths of our questions.” Maurice’s voice once again echoed in her mind. “As soon as you think you have the answer, you have closed the path and may miss vital new information. Wait awhile in the stillness, and do not rush to conclusions, no matter how uncomfortable the unknowing.” (Jacqueline Winspear, Maisie Dobbs.)

It’s good not to rush to conclusions.

The Uncomfortable Unknowing

The uncomfortable unknowing can seem unbearable at times. In hearing a story, reading a book, or watching a movie we might say we’re on pins and needles. We  positively ache to know what will happen.

This comes in real life, too. Interviewing for a job, wondering how someone will respond to being asked out on a date (or wanting to be asked out), waiting for grades on final exams to be posted – everyone has experienced life’s repeated uncomfortable unknowing.

And it comes in faith as well. There is much we do not know, yet we’re told to live in faith anyway.

 As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”

A painting by Enrique Simonet, 1892, showing Jesus with his followers on the Mount of Olives (Wikipedia)

Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. … Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him. (Matthew 22:3-4, 42-44.)

As we wait we still experience the ache, the uncomfortableness, what Paul calls the “inward groaning.”

… we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8:23-25.)

We should not reject this discomfort, but patiently experience it as a part of the path. It is the journey we are on with Jesus that leads to an eternal truth, the total redemption not only of our spirits but also our bodies in the new creation to come. After all, when Jesus says all he means all.

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21:5.)

Write it down. It’s true.


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5 Responses to The Facts Are in the Questions – a look at courtrooms and faith

  1. Just wonderful, Tim. “The truth walks toward us on the path of our questions.” That is an amazing quote and image. Not us desperately running after truth and trying to capture it, but truth approaching us as we ask questions. And that it’s not only permissible, but good and right to question and explore and even doubt. Thanks for this today.

  2. JYJames says:

    My cousin is a judge, now on the Federal Bench. In the beginning, at the local level, it was Family Court that he found challenging. “It’s shocking what people do to each other in their own families,” he said.

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