The Trial of Judicial Cases

  1. At the beginning of every trial the moderator shall announce that the body is about to sit in a judicial capacity, and shall exhort the members to bear in mind their solemn duty faithfully to minister and declare the Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice, and to subordinate all human judgments to that infallible rule. The announcement and the exhortation shall be made at the opening of each session of the trial court.
  2. The courts of the church shall ordinarily sit with open doors. In every case involving a charge of heresy the court shall be without power to sit with closed doors. In other cases, where the ends of discipline seem to require it the trial court at any stage of the trial may determine by a vote of three fourths of the members present to sit with closed doors.
  3. At the first meeting of the trial court only the following things may be done: (a) the charges and specifications shall be read and formally presented to the accused, together with the names of any witnesses and copies of any documents which may be presented against him; (b) the court shall fix the time for the next session of the trial, which shall not be less than ten days later, and shall issue citations directing all persons concerned to appear at that time; (c) the accused shall be granted citations in which he may insert the names of the witnesses whom he wishes the court to summon; and (d) the parties may challenge the right of any member of the court to sit in the case, which challenge shall be decided by a majority of the other members of the court.
  4. If it becomes necessary to summon witnesses who are subject to the jurisdiction of another court of the church, such court at the request of the trial court shall issue citations directing such persons to appear and testify
  5. The testimony of witnesses living at a distance from the place of trial may be taken by a commission appointed by the trial court whenever such course seems advisable, provided, however, that in such case the accused may appear personally before such commission or be represented by counsel. The commissioners must be communicant members of the church. They shall take such testimony as may be offered and transmit the testimony to the trial court. The Court may, at its own discretion, admit sworn statements from persons who by reason of infirmity or distance are unable to appear as witnesses.
  6. All citations should be served personally, but in case this is not possible, citations shall be sent by registered mail to the last known address of the person cited.
  7. If the accused refuses or fails to appear before the trial court, without satisfactory reason for his absence, at the time appointed for the trial of the case, he shall again be cited, with the warning that, if he does not appear, he may be disciplined for contempt, and the court will proceed with the trial in his absence. The time allowed for the appearance on a citation shall be determined by the issuing court with due consideration for the circumstances.
  8. If a witness who is a member of the church fails to obey a lawful citation, he shall be cited again with the warning that if he does not appear or give satisfactory reason for his absence, he may be censored for contempt. The time allowed for appearance on a citation shall be determined by the issuing trial court with due consideration for the circumstances. A communicant member of the church under the jurisdiction of another judicatory shall, if likewise cited and refusing to appear, or, having appeared, refuses to testify, the trial court shall communicate the facts to the court having jurisdiction over the person concerned. An officer or private member of the church refusing to testify may be censored for contumacy.
  9. The accused shall be entitled to the assistance of counsel. No person shall be eligible to act as counsel who is not a member in good standing of the Bible Presbyterian Church. No person who is counsel in a judicial case may sit in judgment on the same case at any stage thereof.
  10. At the second meeting of the trial court the accused may interpose objections concerning (a) the regularity of the proceedings up to this point and (b) the legal sufficiency of the charges and specifications. The court shall decide on the validity of such objections. It may dismiss the case forthwith, or permit such amendments of the charges and specifications as do not alter their essential nature. If the court decides that the trial should proceed the accused shall be called upon to plead “guilty” or “not guilty” and his plea shall be entered upon the record. If the accused pleads “guilty” the court shall retire to determine the censure. If the accused pleads “not guilty” or refuses to plead, the trial shall proceed. Accused parties may plead in writing when they cannot be personally present. Parties necessarily absent should have counsel assigned to them.
  11. No person shall be deprived of the right to set forth, plead, or offer in evidence in any court of the church the provisions of the Word of God or of the subordinate standards.
  12. Witnesses shall testify in the presence of the accused unless the accused has failed to present himself after citation as provided in section 7 of this chapter. When all of the testimony has been taken the prosecution and the accused may present argument as to the law of the church and the facts. The court shall then retire, and, after deliberation, shall vote on each charge and specification separately. If the court decides that the accused is guilty, it shall then determine the censure.
  13. Only members of the court who have been present during the whole of the trial shall be allowed to vote therein, nor may any member who has been absent be thereafter counted in the computation of a quorum. The clerk shall keep an accurate roll of the members attending each session of the court.
  14. When the trial court has concluded its deliberations, the moderator shall announce its judgment on each charge. If the accused has been found guilty, the court shall state what censure it proposes to pronounce upon the accused. The censure shall not be pronounced before the expiration of the time in which the accused may file notice of appeal. If notice of appeal is filed and an appeal is taken within the time prescribed by this Book of Discipline, the court may not execute its judgment unless and until the judgment is affirmed by the highest court to which appeal is taken.
  15. The trial court shall preserve a complete stenographic record of the trial including the following: charges and specifications, objections made by the accused at any stage of the trial; the testimony of witnesses; and all rulings and findings of the court as well as the minutes of its private deliberations. This record, together with all relevant papers, shall be certified by the clerk of the trial court and transmitted to the higher court in cases of appeal. This record shall include either a complete stenographic record or a record made by electronic recording devices. If electronic recording devices are used, at least two such devices must be employed under the supervision of the clerk. These recordings must be certified by both the clerk and the moderator of the trial.
  16. The accused shall be allowed one copy of the record at the expense of the trial body. Additional copies may be obtained by him at cost.
  17. The accused may except to any and all rulings or findings made by the trial court. All such exceptions must be entered on the record.
  18. Book of Discipline of the Bible Presbyterian Church, General Synod ©1998 Amended by the 55th, 56th, and 58th General Synods of the Bible Presbyterian Church.