Everything about the US legal system is based on police lineups and a unanimous decision by 12 of your peers. But surfing a popular physics website I stumbled across phys.org

"Under ancient Jewish law, if a suspect on trial was unanimously found guilty by all judges, then the suspect was acquitted. This reasoning sounds counterintuitive, but the legislators of the time had noticed that unanimous agreement often indicates the presence of systemic error in the judicial process, even if the exact nature of the error is yet to be discovered. They intuitively reasoned that when something seems too good to be true, most likely a mistake was made."

And then the article just gets even more surprising from there.

This isn't a winger website, this is proven scientific material which is either peer reviewed or will be very soon.

I am curious what kind of an impact a talented attorney could have with this kind of material? How flawed are we really?

  • There is no reference for the statement regarding ancient Jewish law, and I, a scholar of the Jewish tradition, have never encountered this legal principle.
    – user4017
    Jan 14, 2016 at 3:45
  • I have read in the Talmud just what the Op wrote: "a suspect on trial was unanimously found guilty by all judges, then the suspect was acquitted."
    – user3270
    Nov 18, 2019 at 16:08

2 Answers 2


First "everything in the legal system" is much, much more than "police lineups and a unanimous decision by 12 of your peers". For a start, police are rarely involved in civil litigation and even in criminal matters lineups are unusual - in most criminal cases there is no doubt who should be charged. However, this is tangential to your questions.

I am curious what kind of an impact a talented attorney could have with this kind of material?

File it as a historical curiosity. Ancient Jewish law has much less relevance to modern US law than modern North Korean law does; and since that has two tenths of bugger all I guess about one tenth?

How flawed are we really?

Incredibly flawed.

Even setting aside the possibility of corruption; court decisions are influenced by things like when the judge last ate, how long it has been since juror number 4 had sex and if the defence attorney fought with his wife that morning.

Focusing on the relatively simple matter of guilt or innocence; that is simple when compared with sentencing or damages, it is estimated that the error rate for false conviction is about 6%. Some of the proximate causes of false conviction are discussed here. Root causes go to misaligned incentives for police and prosecutors; they want to close cases and get convictions; In the words of Terry Pratchett, "If there was a crime, there should be punishment. If the specific criminal should be involved in the punishment process then this was a happy accident, but if not then any criminal would do, and since everyone was undoubtedly guilty of something, the net result was that, in general terms, justice was done." http://www.azquotes.com/quote/473109

The error rate for false acquittals should be considerably higher because of the presumption of innocence and the burden of beyond reasonable doubt, however, most defence lawyers would agree that the mere fact that their client is sitting in the box has them half convicted before the jury is empaneled.

However, none of that is something you can argue in court. The system is what the system is. How it is and why it is is a matter of politics (and historical inertia) not law.

  • I guess that pretty much sums it up. your 1/10 response was probably dead on it. It means something but meh it doesn't mean diddly squat. :)
    – doeJ
    Jan 6, 2016 at 5:14

The ancient Jewish law you mention is about judges, not ordinary citizens. The judges on that panel were supposed to be extraordinarily brilliant. This is hardly comparable to our modern day jury of your peers.

The ancient Jewish court is more comparable to higher courts in the USA. How many major decisions by the US Supreme Court are unanimous?

  • maybe. but that's just their summary. The significance of the article (if any) is that these mathematical results can be proven in a lab. That's a physics website, not a winger site. The perspective of that article is that these are statistical facts and even if the ancient Jewish elders were 'genius', regular groups still apply to the very same principle, based on their findings. And that sh!t can be proven with physics and math, not opinion.
    – doeJ
    Jan 6, 2016 at 14:20

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.