Tennessee has adopted a biblical standard In the prosecution of crimes, a standard which dictates few criminal prosecutions and effectively forbids most of the operation of the police-industrial complex in Chattanooga and across the landscape.
I’m not referring to any recent action by the general assembly. I’m referring to a long-standing law that imposes the guilty mind or mens rea legal standard upon criminal prosecutions.
Many American states have similar laws, so a reform in Tennessee could be replicated elsewhere.
State actors cannot make a claim against a defendant unless they accuse him of intending to commit the crime. Intent is required to be a part of every criminal prosecution. The cop has to allege intent. The district attorney has to prove it. The judge has to demand evidence of it. The defendant has a duty in his self-protection to demand proof of intent of the crime.
The origins of the intent law
The state law requiring proof of intent comes from God in the public policy part of the Bible, that is, the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 19 describes the operation of this commandment in the case of a killing.
The law is illustrated by a tale of two woodsmen whacking away at trees with axes. The heavy metal head flies off the handle gripped by one woodsmen and strikes and kills the other. The law allows the perpetrator to flee to a God-ordained city of refuge, where an inquest is held. The angry family members have sent the avenger of blood after the woodsmen, but at this city they are held back. The hearing focuses on whether the accused had in times past expressed anger or hatred of the deceased. If no intent to harm is shown, the accused is to stay in that city until blood cools and anger fades.
Tennessee has adopted the guilty mind law not just for murder cases, but for all crimes in its criminal statute, at Tennessee Code Ann. § Title 39-11-301.
‘Intent’ law undermines other laws
Perhaps it was an ordained mistake to have done so, because the intent statute on minor cases such as failure to appear, petty theft, driving on revoked makes them unwieldy and seemingly nye impossible to prosecute. How can a DA argue intent with a “failure to appear” case? Or a “resisting arrest” case? Or “driving on suspended,” a charge that tens of thousands of people face across the state.
Tennessee government has suspended hundreds of thousands of licenses, often against people too poor to pay court costs and fines.
The existence of the “guilty intent” standard in Tennessee law would seem to deny and forbid prosecution of petty cases in their current form. The standard seems to limit the state to only major offenses — murder, rape, robbery or assault. In the scriptures, there are no prisons or fines. There is restitution-restoration for all offenses except capital crimes such as murder.
Obedience to this law would have a profound effect on the scope and reach of what legal historian Roger Roots calls “the conviction factory.” Insisting on the full operation of this law would reduce prosecutions by anywhere from 40 percent to 75 percent and would be a budget way of reducing the claim of the prison-industrial complex on American society and on the taxpayer’s purse.
Insisting on the guilty intent law would make prosecuting small offenses as they are done today untenable, too complicated, too unwieldy, too slow. The standard would work its way backward to the officer, who would simply not file any criminal charge except the most necessary for public peace and order. The courts would find alternative means to handle offenses that are effectively obliterated by mens rea.
The ending of policing and the police state is to be sought after, especially among Christian people. And Christian people, claiming God’s interests in justice, should make a stink about the neglect and widespread rejection of this law by parties subject to it. Insisting on God’s authority, insisting on human commandments in Tenn. Code Ann. Title 39 is a happy combination, and would win support of professing Christians and people outside the church concerned with justice or equity.
Again, the parties subject to this law are police, sheriffs, prosecutors, grand juries and judges. God claims his law in the publishing of it in the Word. The state claims this law, and these parties swear an oath to God to uphold the constitution and obey all laws as this.
If this law were enforced, if this law’s claims upon justice were promoted as one of God’s characteristics found in the Word, then the police-industrial complex would be pared back.
Making city a sanctuary
The work by Christian people to defend God’s name, to defend God’s character, defend and promote God’s interest in righteousness, equity and justice, would be a major missionary work in our home state.
It is a missionary endeavor to defend God and claim God and promote God in the public establishment, among the white collar folks who populate the offices of police stations, courts and jails.
Is there a church in Chattanooga willing to promote this mission of defending the creator among the people here?
My proposal is that God’s law is good and that if we promote it to defend any part of Tennessee law which reflects his own, we are doing our Lord Jesus, God the Father and God the Holy Spirit a service and fulfilling our duty, taking dominion of the earth and promoting peace, mercy and prosperity, to our Lord being the glory.
God hates our judicial system; God hates our police-Jim-Crow system.
By citing God’s law on intent, and insisting on Tennessee’s intent law, we make a step toward Tennessee’s being a haven and sanctuary.