Jury Selection Speech: Trial by Combat and Ordeal

While serving my mission in Britain, I visited the island of Jersey off the coast of France. This is where the Jersey cows come from. The neighboring English island of Guernsey is where the Guernsey cows originate. 

  On the coastal road on Jersey, high above the rocky shore, is a plaque dedicated to “Geoffrey’s Leap.” I use the tale of Geoffrey’s Leap when I impanel juries.

  I explain:

  “Trial by jury is a relatively recent innovation in the law. Historically, trials were conducted in one of three ways.

“The first type of trial was trial by combat. A gladiator in ancient Rome, a Samurai warrior in ancient Japan, or a knight in Medieval Europe would fight, duel, or joust, often to the death, to determine someone’s guilt or innocence. 

Knights, Jousting, Medieval, Armor
Image result for trial by ordeal photos

“The second type of trial was trial by ordeal.  Someone would be thrown off a cliff, drown in a pond, or burned at the stake, and if they happened to survive, and I have found no recorded incidents of anyone ever surviving such an ordeal, they may or may not have been found innocent.

 “My favorite trial by ordeal took place on the island of Jersey. As the story goes, in Medieval times, a man named Geoffrey was accused of a crime. He protested his innocence. The mob marched him to a high rock by a cliff overlooking the ocean. It was about a fifty-foot drop from the top of the rock to the rocky shore below. No one had ever survived this ordeal before.

 “They threw Geoffrey off the cliff.  Miraculously, he survived. Broken and bloody he crawled back up the cliff. He again protested his innocence and argued that God had intervened and performed a miracle in his defense.

 “The leaders replied, “No, we know you are guilty.” Whereupon, the mob threw him off the cliff a second time.  Miraculously, he survived again. He struggled back up the cliff and again protested his innocence. God had obviously intervened and performed another miracle. 

“The leaders responded, “No, we know you are guilty.” Whereupon they threw poor Geoffrey off the rock a third time. This time he died. 

“The mob was now satisfied. They said to themselves, “We knew he was guilty all along.”  However, the mob was so impressed that they named the rock and cliff “Geoffrey’s Leap.”

“The third type of trial historically, was trial by king, ruler, dictator, or judge, where one person, with that person’s individual biases and prejudices determined someone’s guilt or innocence.

“Gratefully, the founders of this country believed there was a better system. And so, they embodied in the Bill of Rights itself, the right to trial by peer, the right to trial by jury.  And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why your presence here, and your willingness to serve, is so vitally important.”

(Source: Personal visit to Geoffrey’s Leap and Memorial Plaque. Although the basic story seems to be true, the details have been altered and embellished over the centuries.)

2 thoughts on “Jury Selection Speech: Trial by Combat and Ordeal

  1. This piece is one of my favorites!
    Nine, Chelsea, Joanna, Erik, Kurt — where are your likes?? These Edition’s are so valuable and are coolness! Get WordPress account so that you can press button!


  2. Thanks. Having a historical perspective is so helpful, as you well know. My jurors are more willing to serve after my speech. Sometimes, in my frustration, I long for the days of trial by ordeal.


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