Jesus Christ: acquitted on appeal?

If the case of Jesus was brought on appeal today and in our democratic world, the decision to execute him could have been enjoined from occurring, and would have been eventually reversed.

This is because an appellant in his situation could have raised and argued several errors. Among them would have been as follows:

First error: The arrest of Jesus was made without a warrant, and was therefore illegal.

The band of soldiers and members of the Supreme Sanhedrin arrested Jesus without any written authority. Under Jewish law at that time, the only instance when an arrest could be made without a warrant was, as it is with us today, when a person to be arrested was committing a crime.

Second error: The Supreme Sanhedrin that convicted Jesus was unlawfully constituted, and therefore did not have jurisdiction to try such an offense involving the death penalty.

The reason for this is that the hearings involving Jesus' death were at night and conducted with undue haste, all of which, therefore, rendered the trial irregular.

Pursuant to Jewish laws at those times, a capital offense could only be tried during the day. Thus, the trial of Jesus should have been suspended because the trial was being conducted at night. Still another reason was that it was prohibited to conduct trial such as the one of Jesus, on the eve of Sabbath.

The Jews, believing that it was a grave matter for human life to be taken as a result of trial, gave judges time for serious reflection and prayer before imposing the sentence of death upon anyone.

Moreover, the hearings on Jesus' trial, which were first made before the Supreme Sanhedrin and afterwards before Pilate, were finished on the same day, and only within the period of seven hours. The hearings were concluded hastily in order for the Supreme Sanhedrin to avoid any opposition from Jesus' supporters.

Third error: Jesus' trial, which involved the death sentence, was conducted in an improper venue, and was therefore invalid.

Jewish law prohibited that a person be tried and meted out a sentence of death anywhere other than in court. Yet, after being seized by the mob, Jesus was brought for trial to the house of the high priest.

Fourth error: Members of the Supreme Sanhedrin were disqualified to act as magistrates in the trial of Jesus, such that their verdict amounted to one that was void.

Under the Jewish Law, one who bore personal motives for or against the accused prevented such person from being a magistrate in the case of the accused.

Here, the accuser of Jesus was Annas, who was a member of the Supreme Sanhedrin. He was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the presiding chairman. The five sons of Annas were also members of the Supreme Sanhedrin. Thus, the members consisted of the accuser himself, and six others who were related to the accuser. All of them convicted Jesus and voted for his death.

Fifth error: The charges against Jesus were changed several times, such that Jesus could not have been accorded due process of law.

At the start of the trial before the Sanhedrin, Jesus was charged with Sedition on the allegation that he was going to destroy the physical Temple in Jerusalem and build it in three days. This charge was abandoned. Trial proceeded against Jesus but this time, on the charge of blasphemy. Then, before Pilate, the charge of blasphemy was dropped, and, on the basis of Jesus having spoken of a new Kingdom being imminent, substituted this for still another one: "high treason" against Ceasar.

Those in the Sanhedrin were uncertain that their charge of blasphemy would be accepted by Pilate, given that such charge was but for an offense against the Jews. To be certain that Jesus was done away with, and because they did not want to kill Jesus themselves, the enemies of Jesus changed the charge to high treason, the most serious crime, and which, being political in nature, was over one on which the Romans exercised jurisdiction.

Sixth error: The conviction of Jesus violated the Rules on Evidence.

Even if Jesus could be considered to have rendered an admission so as to be considered as having committed blasphemy, still, according to Jewish Law during Jesus' time, no attempt could be made to lead a man to commit self-incrimination, especially if the penalty that resulted was death. A voluntary confession by him was not admissible in evidence, and therefore not competent to convict him. This was unless there came forward at least two witnesses whose testimonies were consistent in corroborating his self-incrimination. No such witnesses were presented.

Seventh error: Jesus was deprived of any opportunity to present evidence at his trial.

The Sanhedrin pronounced him guilty of blasphemy, without even exerting effort to determine whether his claim was true. But Jesus could have had many witnesses to prove his claim. And, had they known of his arrest, they would have appeared before the Supreme Sanhedrin to testify in his favor. Aside from Jesus' own disciples, these people were those who saw Jesus perform miracles either on them or on persons whom they knew.

These were, among many others, the leper, the paralytics, the man who was blind from birth and given the gift to see, the widow's son who was resurrected, the crippled woman, the Roman centurion's servant who was healed, the blind Bartimaeus in Jericho who was cured, Lazarus who was brought back to life after several days in his grave. All of them would have avowed as to the holiness of Jesus.

If they were not sufficient to convince those in trial that Jesus was indeed the Son of God, many others would have come forward to testify that they saw Jesus walk on the sea, and that they saw him feed crowds with a mere handful of fishes and few loaves of bread. Others would have testified as to having witnessed Jesus baptized by John and having heard the voice from the skies declare, "This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased!"

Eighth error: The decision to execute Jesus was contrary to the findings and conclusions made.

Pilate declared to the public three times that he found no crime committed by Jesus. Yet, he incongruously still allowed the execution of Jesus.

A review of the case of Jesus and a perusal of the arguments raised would show that the errors committed in Jesus' trial constituted severe violations, particularly of the right to due process of law. They were violations then, and are violations now - whether committed in Jerusalem or anywhere else.

Given all of these, Jesus would have been acquitted from his unjust and unfair trial, and any appeal from it would have readily caused it to be set aside.

(The author is currently a Justice of the Court of Appeals, and is a former regular columnist of Manila Bulletin.)

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