Presumption of Innocence. Ever since 1895, when the Supreme Court formally established the presumption of innocence, every accused criminal has been “innocent until proven guilty.” See Coffin v. United States, 156 U.S. 432. Although it can be debated whether the fact finder actually observes this presumption, there is no doubt that it has produced an essential legal corollary – namely, reasonable doubt.
Reasonable Doubt. In a criminal trial, the prosecution bears the burden of proof to show that the defendant has committed the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Accordingly, the prosecution must present evidence. The defense, however, need not present any evidence at all – even the defendant need not testify. Yet, most defense attorneys do, in fact, put on a case because they know that it is their one opportunity to bear witness to what happened.
Case-in-Chief. Jesus would have been a great defense attorney. When he described the last days to his disciples, he told them to see their indictments and trials as strategic opportunities to bear witness to the gospel: “But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness” (Luke 21:12-13).
Paul’s Defense. As a lawyer, Paul took this to heart. For more than two years, Paul was imprisoned based on false charges. Yet, because of this, he was able to share his testimony with the whole Jewish council and three of the highest political officials in Palestine (Felix, Festus, and Agrippa). Even King Agrippa knew that Paul was using his defense to share the gospel rather than to prove his own innocence. For he asked Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:28, ESV). Paul responded, “Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am – except for these chains.” (Acts 26:29, ESV).
Strategic Opportunities. Paul was more concerned with Christ being preached than he was with proclaiming his innocence. What are you more concerned about when you’re unfairly judged – your own good name or the good name of the Savior, Christ Jesus the Lord?