Legal Thought of the Day: No. 9

It was proved, unanswerably, on the trial, that Amos Gridley, a witness offered by the defendant, had, deliberately, within three months of the trial, declared his disbelief in a God, and a future state of rewards and punishments; that he had said, man was like a beast, and when he died, there was an end of him. Being interrogated as to his present belief, he said that he did not know that he had any reason to doubt there was an afterstate of rewards and punishments. …

By the law of England, which has been adopted in this state, it is fully and clearly settled, that infidels who do not believe in a God, or if they do, do not think that he will either reward or punish them in the world to come, cannot be witnesses in any case, nor under any circumstances; because an oath cannot possibly be any tie or obligation upon them. …

The course pursued on this trial was to admit the witness on his declaration, that he did not know that he had any reason to doubt that there was an after-state of rewards and punishments, and to leave his credit to the jury; and the learned judge told the jury, that his statement ought to be disregarded as deserving no credit. Now, it does appear to me, if the judge was authorized to say so, as I think he was, he ought not to have been admitted at all. It would be strange if the law admitted a man to be a witness, that the same law should declare he was not to be believed on account of the obliquity of his mind, and because he was incapable of being bound by any religious tie to speak the truth. The very fact that a person possesses such an awful creed, as renders him unworthy of credit, establishes that he should not be heard.

Religion is a subject on which every man has a right to think according to the dictates of his understanding. It is a solemn concern between his conscience and his God, with which no human tribunal has a right to meddle. But in the developement of facts, and the ascertainment of truth, human tribunals have a right to interfere. They are bound to see that no man’s rights are impaired or taken away, but through the medium of testimony entitled to belief; and no testimony is entitled to credit, unless delivered under the solemnity of an oath, which comes home to the conscience of the witness, and will create a tie arising from his belief that false swearing would expose him to punishment in the life to come. On this great principle rest all our institutions, and especially the distribution of justice between man and man.

There must be a new trial, with costs to abide the event.

~Chief Justice Spencer
Jackson ex dem. Tuttle v. Gridley
, 18 Johns. 98 (N.Y.Sup. 1820).

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One Response to Legal Thought of the Day: No. 9

  1. […] Amos Gridley was held incompetent to testify as a witness.  The issue was lost on appeal.  Jackson ex dem. Tuttle v. Gridley, 18 Johns. 98 (N.Y.Sup. 1820).  Pennsylvania later adopted the New York rule of law and held […]

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