Leviticus 5:1 reads: “If someone sins because he has heard a public call to testify and he is a witness or has seen or learned about it and he does not report it, then he will answer for his error.”
I have always understood this to mean that if a person observes wrongdoing, he is under obligation to report it. However, after reading the revised translation above along with the footnote to this scripture, I realized it could also mean the need to come to the defense of an innocent person.
Although the judicial arrangement back in ancient Israel was different than our modern means of carrying out justice, the principle is still the same. As lawyers are ramping up to make & present their case (on both sides, plaintiff and defendant), they will typically interview anyone that has any knowledge of the events that lead to the court case. Back in ancient Israel, it was up to each community member to willingly and readily come forward both with information that may prove innocence or guilt. What Lev.5:1 is legislating is that anyone holding back knowledge is guilty especially before God. Typically the phrase “he will answer for his error” meant the death penalty if such a person withheld pertinent knowledge or evidence. We might think that such a penalty was extreme, but even in today’s courts, withholding evidence is akin to perjury and in some cases is punishable by a prison sentence.
So both in ancient and modern history, withholding what we know about a critical matter can end up affecting our own freedom. It is not a small matter. Whether it is something that can exonerate or condemn a person, if we have information pertinent to the case and the charges, we need to report it.