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Trial by Fire - Trial by Jury

Trying to determine guilt or innocence in the criminal justice system is not always an easy (or accurate) process. Trial by jury is right guaranteed under both the Utah State Constitution and the Constitution of the United States. But juries have not always been used to determine guilt or innocence. If you are facing prosecution in Utah, contact us today to see what defense options may be appropriate for your case and to see how our criminal defense team can help you.

Trial by Ordeal - How it Worked

Today the phrase “trial by fire” refers to a situation in which one’s ability and resolve to function under pressure is tested. Originally, however, “trial by fire” was a not merely a figure of speech - it was meant literally. In the Middle Ages, trial by fire was just one example of the judicial process known as "trial by ordeal."

Utah Criminal Defense Trial LawyerDuring a trial by ordeal the defendant would be put to an unpleasant and usually very dangerous test.  Examples include walking certain number of paces holding a red-hot iron or dipping a hand into a kettle of boiling water or oil to retrieve a stone.  The idea behind a trial by ordeal was that a higher god would intervene to prove the defendant’s guilt or innocence.

Clearly, this judicial process had its faults. But many scholars have suggested that the method was not entirely without merit.

Trial or Confession - It's Your Choice

Trial by ordeal may have been a very effective method of extracting confessions. In a society where people firmly believed that a priest could call on god to reveal the truth by miraculously protecting only the innocent person from harm, a person who was in fact guilty would be much more likely to choose to confess his guilt rather than choose to undergo the ordeal.

The punishment for pleading guilty was generally more lenient than the penalties that would be imposed on one who was found guilty through trial by ordeal. Trial by ordeal therefore also provided strong motivation for an innocent person to falsely confess.

In order to voluntarily choose to undergo the ordeal, a person who was actually innocent must have believed and expected god to perform a miracle during the trial by ordeal and prove them innocent by protecting them from harm. Historical records suggest that the process was not always 100% accurate.

Criminal Defense Lawyers in Utah

DUI Attorney in Davis and Weber CountyOur criminal justice system has evolved significantly since the Middle Ages. But our system today is still not perfect. Having the assistance of an experienced criminal defense lawyer can be critical to achieving the right outcome.

If you have been charged with a felony or misdemeanor crime in Utah, contact us today to see how we can help you.


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Serving Salt Lake, Davis, Weber, Utah, Cache, Tooele, Summit, Box Elder, and Wasatch Counties, and all of Utah.

Attorney Stephen Howard practices as part of the Canyons Law Group, LLC and Stephen W. Howard, PC.

Offices in Salt Lake and Davis Counties
560 South 300 East, Suite 200, Salt Lake City, UT 84111
952 S. Main St., Suite A, Layton, UT 84041

Call now to arrange for a confidential initial consultation with an experienced and effective Utah criminal defense lawyer.

In Salt Lake City, call 801-449-1409.
In Davis County, call 801-923-4345.

Stephen W. Howard, PC

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