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Let's say in this hypothetical scenario you have an extremely devout Christian man on trial for a crime where he could be executed.

He gets called to the stand and under examination makes a speech. In it he speaks to a witness and the jury, saying these quotes from the Bible:

  • Exodus 23:7

    Have nothing to do with a false charge and do not put an innocent or honest person to death, for I will not acquit the guilty.

  • Proverbs 17:15 (NIV)

    Acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent—the LORD detests them both.

Under the United States Criminal Code and in the state of Texas is this witness intimidation and/or jury intimidation?

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    Do the proverbs stand in a context known to Christians that would be threatening to them? Because without context, they seem to say exactly the same as the law itself: "don't convict innocent people". In fact I think the law itself has more direct sentences for people that knowingly convict innocent people and is probably more of a threat in that regard.
    – nvoigt
    Dec 3, 2023 at 7:42
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    I guess it could be considered intimidation if the bible and law interpretations of "innocent" differed, so that the message would become "I may be guilty under the law but innocent in the eye of the Lord, so don't convict me or you'll be punished"
    – Stef
    Dec 4, 2023 at 9:17
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    I think the question could do with a title that includes a little more detail and reads as a question, such as, "Is it considered intimidation to read in court a bible verse that includes no threats?". I would give it a try myself, but there's a pending edit, so I cannot.
    – Corrodias
    Dec 5, 2023 at 18:06
  • I think these quotes both tell the jury to do their job properly. Actually this says you should not acquit someone who is guilty, but not beyond reasonable doubt, or proven by evidence that was acquired illegally.
    – gnasher729
    Dec 6, 2023 at 17:46

3 Answers 3

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Where would the intimidation lie? To qualify as witness intimidation, you need to coerce someone to not cooperate with the prosecution.

Given that all witnesses are required to take an oath to tell the truth, which would require that they not perjure themselves even if the prosecution wants them to, it is clear that such cooperation does not extend to obtaining the conviction of the innocent.

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    My reading of it was that the Biblical verses being quoted were the intimidation. I believe the question asker intends for those to be understood as a threat, basically saying "you'd better not find me guilty or else", but in language that gives more deniability than an explicit statement. (Though of course, the letter of the verse is to not find an innocent person guilty, but maybe a pointed look from the defendant is supposed to make it come across as a threat regardless? I'm not saying I really understand it, but I think I kind of see where this was supposed to be going.)
    – David Z
    Dec 4, 2023 at 4:40
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    @DavidZ That it might be intimidating in the common use does not make it intimidation in the legal sense.
    – Mary
    Dec 4, 2023 at 13:19
  • @Mary Might it depend on a "common sense" interpretation? (Whatever that might be in this case.) For example, I assume the law would consider the following to be a threat: "That's a might nice family you have. It'd be a shame if anything happened to them." Dec 6, 2023 at 14:36
  • @BenHocking What does whether it's a threat have to do with it? A lawyer who says to a witness, "Remember you are under oath" is threatening the witness with jail, but it's still legal.
    – Mary
    Dec 6, 2023 at 23:54
  • @Mary, I'm just saying that if (big qualifier there) it was found that a "common sense" interpretation differs from your interpretation of just, "Remember you are under oath" in a way to make it "obviously" an extra-judicial threat, then that could change things. I don't think that's the case here, but sometimes these things might have deeper layers of interpretation than those not in the know might be aware of. Dec 7, 2023 at 18:32
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Witness intimidation? Unlikely.

I do see nothing in the statement that would amount to jury tampering. He's not standing up and yelling that he'll have the jury and everyone they have dear mowed down by his mob, he's not threatening to hang himself. He just makes statements of religion, which are utterly overwritten by law: the law already says what the Jury has to do: convict the guilty and acquit the innocent. Religious statements to that effect are utterly misplaced in court, and lecturing about what the law is is only allowed to the judge.

OBJECTION! Relevancy.

So, the opposing lawyer would be allowed to stand up, and object to the answer (or the question), and the judge can demand the witness to stop answering in this way or be sanctioned with contempt of court. A witness may only answer questions, not treat the place as a podium to preach from. Doing preaching or ranting from the stand is not necessarily jury intimidation, but it can very easily become contempt of court.

Also, lecturing the jury about what the law is is not allowed for anyone but the judge - doing so can also become contempt of court easily. It is up to the lawyers to plead to the judge, who is the finder of law for that reason, what they believe the law is to be read. Then the judge determines what the law actually is and then lectures the jury how to interpret it. Witnesses are not allowed to take part in this.

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  • One reason for the relevancy objection is that if the defendant is guilty, the passages in question, even if they were authoritative, would not apply; and if the defendant is not guilty, then the passages command nothing that the jury was not already intending to do.
    – EvilSnack
    Dec 5, 2023 at 3:30
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The most analogous offence to "witness and/or jury intimidation" is known as "intimidation of a justice system participant", codified at Criminal Code, s. 423.1(1)(b)

No person shall, without lawful authority, engage in any conduct with the intent to provoke a state of fear in ... a justice system participant or military justice system participant in order to impede him or her in the performance of his or her duties

Central to this offence are: (1) the intent to provoke a state of fear; and (2) the purpose of impeding the justice system participant in their performance of their duties in the justice system.

Actions that have been found to be intended to provoke a state of fear tend to be violence or threats of violence, harassment, damage to property, stalking behaviour, etc.

I have searched for and found no reported judgment wherein a person was prosectued with this offence for what they have said while being examined as a witness. One reason may simply be because the counsel and the court would not allow such a response to a question.

But moreso, the example statements you give do not appear to me to be in the category of things caught by this offence. Instead of having the purpose of impeding the duties, they implore others to follow their duties. They also are quite unlike the acts that have been recognized to have the intent of provoking fear: these are not threats of violence or damage to property, not harrassment, not stalking, etc.

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