While my blog is not usually about comparing religious texts to legal issues, I’d like to continue this Easter week to explore how the resurrection stories touch upon the nature of evidence in a court proceeding. Specifically looking at the Gospel of John, in describing Mary Magdalene as she goes to the tomb, John portrays her as a witness that the stone has been removed from the tomb. She immediately rushes to a prejudicial conclusion based on the evidence before her: someone must have taken the body.
This conclusion is reaffirmed as Peter and John come investigate and see new evidence, that the burial cloths are rolled up. Mary then sees more evidence proving her theory, when a gardener appears who is suspiciously lingering around the area after the tomb was emptied. Mary now approaches him as a suspect: this man may have taken Jesus away! Only when he calls her by her name, does she recognize him as Jesus, and this final piece of evidence rules out her previous conclusion.
But after Mary tells all the disciples, and even they see Jesus in person, Thomas remains unconvinced. Thomas will not believe until he sees the actual marks of the nails and is able to touch them. Thomas demands this higher standard of evidence before he will come to the same conclusion, and eventually even he is persuaded by new evidence, as Jesus appears and lets him touch his wounds.
How does all this play out in a legal context? Whether a civil or criminal case, evidence is the key to reaching a judgment in a contested matter. This could be a matter in probate, criminal court, a custody proceeding, an immigration application, or any other matter. As Rule 102 of the Illinois evidence rules states, the purpose of evidence is “that the truth may be ascertained and proceedings justly determined.”
It’s not enough to just show up and file a paper stating that you deserve a legal remedy of some kind, or to show up to a criminal case and say “Clearly I didn’t do it.” And neither can the other side make such a simple announcement; evidence is necessary to actually prove the case on its merits. This might include objects, documents, sworn statements, or live testimony from witnesses. Evidence may be as fleeting as tire marks which disappear, or as firm as a statue that will now stand headless for centuries.
Every person who is a party to a case has the right to present evidence and witnesses that can prove the case; the problem is that there are standards that must be followed before anything can be admitted to the court. The court may require a preponderance of evidence (a greater than 50/50 conclusion), or it might require enough evidence such that no reasonable person would have any doubt at all.
Additionally in Illinois, as in most states, evidence must be relevant and non-prejudicial, relating to facts and not opinion or character. Documents must be authenticated by people who know where they came from, and legally permitted to be disclosed. Witnesses must have actual knowledge and be willing to face cross-examination and possible impeachment. Finally, most testimony or documents claiming statements were made by other people are almost always excluded as hearsay.
As in my last post about the trial of Jesus, the discussion above is not meant to prove or disprove any doctrines of Christianity. Rather it should emphasize that preparing a case should always involve strategic planning as to how evidence will be presented. A judge or jury may either be more like Mary Magdalene or more like Thomas in terms of what evidence is enough to persuade them to a conclusion.
If you are planning for a case that might end up in a trial, you may want to call an attorney as soon as possible for help with gathering and presenting evidence, as it might make the difference between how your case ends.
DISCLAIMER: Please do not prepare your own documents / filings after reading this blog, without consulting an attorney first about your specific situation. I make no representations or guarantees here as to the applicability of any claim in your specific situation. This blog is ADVERTISING MATERIAL only, and should not be relied upon as legal advice, especially if you are not an Illinois resident. Please contact me if you have a legal question or concern, as no attorney-client agreement will exist between myself and any readers of this blog unless it is signed in writing.
Photo: The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio (Wikipedia / public domain)