Torah Portion: Mishpatim
Do not be a follower of the majority for evil (Shemos 23:2).
It is a negative commandment regarding capital cases that the judge not follow the majority opinion if it is a majority of just one judge. To clarify: If there is a disagreement between the judges about the verdict due a certain person, with some of the judges saying that he deserves the death penalty and others saying that he is not guilty, and those who maintained the man was guilty outnumbered the judges who said he is innocent by one judge — in this situation the sinner is not to be found guilty as the [slim] majority, as it is written, Do not be a follower of the majority for evil (Shemos 23:2); that is, do not follow the majority that wishes to hand down a verdict of death.
The expression “for evil” used in the verse means “for imposing the death penalty.” As explained, this applies only if it is a majority of just one judge. But if it is a majority of two, then the person is condemned to death.
Among the roots of the mitzvah is the idea that we were commanded to emulate the attributes of Hashem, may He be blessed, and one of his Attributes is that He is “abundant in kindness”; that is, He treats humans more mercifully than the line of the law. We, too, are therefore commanded in capital cases to likewise look for the merit more than the guilt, for death is something that cannot be reversed. [Judges] who transgress this deserve a very great punishement, for they cause the loss of a soul not in accord with the law.