If God Knows All, He Must Know Even Criminal Procedure …

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

It is said that Lord Chief Justice Holt, who served as the English Chief Justice from 1689 to 1710, was once approached at home by an associate of a criminal defendant whom Holt had committed for trial; both the associate and the defendant were members of a group of religious zealots. The associate told the Chief Justice, "I come to you a prophet from the Lord God, who has sent me to thee, and would have thee grant a nolle prosequi for Mr. Atkins, His servant, whom thou hast cast into prison."

Holt responded: "Thou art a false prophet, and a lying knave. If the Lord God had sent thee, it would have been to the Attorney General, for He knows that it belongeth not to the Chief Justice to grant a nolle prosequi: but as Chief Justice, I can grant a warrant to commit thee to bear him company."


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  1. Amazing the things God tells some people.

    1. Heck, Prof Volokh tells us some pretty interesting stuff himself!

  2. Quite a way to deflate some pompous bigot.
    Thanks for the anecdote!

  3. Yeah but the important thing is which law school did God attend.

    1. All of them. omnipotent. omniscient and omnipresent

  4. Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

  5. Could he have sued God for incompetence?

    1. Proper process would be a pretty big hurdle

    2. Well, someone once tried to sue Satan. See United States ex rel. Mayo v. Satan & His Staff, 54 F.R.D. 282 (1971). The complaint was dismissed for failure to establish personal jurisdiction and inability to obtain personal jurisdiction. I suspect a case against God would suffer similar infirmities.

      1. sorry, “inability to obtain service of process.”

      2. “The complaint was dismissed for failure to establish personal jurisdiction.” I don’t know about Satan, but isn’t God everywhere?

      3. Krychek_2: But God is everywhere! Sovereign immunity, on the other hand ….

        1. How would sovereign immunity apply? He would need to be legally recognized as a sovereign which would run into Establishment Clause problems.

    3. “Ineffective assistance of deity”?

  6. Responsibility lies with us, not God

    “The Lord alps those who alps themselves” – Marx (Groucho not Karl)

  7. On a regular basis, people file impossible law suits against God, Satan, Jesus, et al and it always amazes me that once filed, the Court has to take it seriously enough to actually issue an Order that gets filed when dismissing the case. I always supposed that once filed, the Clerk’s office has to have some sort of disposition on the record to clear the case out.

    1. So long as the filing fee is enough to cover the court’s time and expenses in dismissing the case, there’s no problem. And if it isn’t, then it’s a good economics lesson for whoever sets court fees. Subsidise something and you’ll get more of it.

      God, being omniscient, is just as good at economics as he is at criminal procedure.

  8. “If God Knows All, He Must Know Even Criminal Procedure …”

    He doesn’t always use that knowledge, not even to defend Himself.

  9. This is very tangential, but God’s knowledge of criminal procedure reminds me of this absolutely wonderful short story by the Czech author Karel Čapek called “The Last Judgment.” Which everyone should read and I won’t spoil here. If you Google “Karel Capek Last Judgment” you should be able to find it pretty easily, it’s extremely short and you can probably read it in a few minutes. But it’s definitely worth it.

    1. Thanks for the delightful read.

  10. Would RFRA change the result were Lord Chief Justice Holt serving as a federal judge? Does the government have a compelling interest in establishing that the associate was ignorant of procedure? Is jailing him the least restrictive alternative means of advancing that interest?

  11. God would be highly unlikely to tell a human to tell another human what his will might be. His track record indicates he would just do it if that is the way he felt. That said, ever since the days of the early Old Testament he has rarely felt compelled to tinker in the affairs of man.

    1. “That said, ever since the days of the early Old Testament he has rarely felt compelled to tinker in the affairs of man.”

      But what about the affairs of woman?

  12. I would one day like to hear the professor’s thoughts on Beccaria.

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