Friday, April 07, 2006

WHY I DON'T PRACTICE CRIMINAL LAW: EASTER EDITION

Various news sources in the last few days have had stories about a document found in Egypt from about 300 A.D. that the news reports call the Gospel of Judas. This may not be an accurate name, since the original work does not appear to have been written by Judas Iscariot. Still, "The Gospel of Judas" certainly catches your attention.

In any case, apparently the central thesis of the work is that Judas did not betray Jesus. Instead, he was the sole apostle to understand the necessity of the crucifixion and was asked specifically by Jesus to be the agent of Jesus's arrest. The gospel stories make clear that Jesus could deepen the already considerable trouble he was in once he got to court. I don't know about the Judas story. I know that other authors have explored this, and I am told that there are ancient Christian traditions that do not view Judas Iscariot as the craven, greedy scumbag that the Catholic Church believes him to be. I just don't know. What I do know is that thinking about the Passion in light of the Gospel of Judas makes it clear why I would never have wanted to practice criminal law.

Imagine for a second that you have a client who has been arrested. Now, he's already said all kind of stuff in public, but you are hoping he has the sense to keep quiet until counsel arrives. Instead, you see the following (from the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 26):

Those who had arrested Jesus led him away to Caiaphas the high priest, where the scribes and the elders were assembled. . . The chief priests and the entire Sanhedrin kept trying to obtain false testimony against Jesus in order to put him to death, but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. Finally two came forward who stated, "This man said, 'I can destroy the temple of God and within three days rebuild it.'" The high priest rose and addressed him, "Have you no answer? What are these men testifying against you?" But Jesus was silent.

OK. So far so good. The state has brought its evidence, and they got nothing. You're thinking your guy is going to walk, as long as he keeps his mouth shut. However . . .

Then the high priest said to him, "I order you to tell us under oath before the living God whether you are the Messiah, the Son of God." Jesus said to him in reply, "You have said so. But I tell you: From now on you will see 'the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power' and 'coming on the clouds of heaven.'"

What? You're client just spazzed on you. In fact, Mark says that Jesus says "I am" instead of "you have said so." Apparently nobody thought to hire a court reporter. Anyway, an admission against interest? It's like the guy doesn't want to walk. Well, maybe the judge will whiff on the significance of the point.

Then the high priest tore his robes and said, "He has blasphemed! What further need have we of witnesses? You have now heard the blasphemy; what is your opinion?" They said in reply, "He deserves to die!"

And that quickly your case went up in flames. Can you imagine?

They say that you never know who Jesus is. He could be the lowly person you reject (although presumably He could also be the high-born person you reject), or the immigrant you mistreat (I'm looking at you, Lou Dobbs), or the poverty-stricken, or the people who work for you who you treat unfairly. The problem is, He could also be the stupid defendant who spazzes on you in court and keeps you from having assisted someone who really could have been acquitted. And so I do not practice criminal law.

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