presumption of innocence

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Presumption of Innocence

A principle that requires the government to prove the guilt of a criminal defendant and relieves the defendant of any burden to prove his or her innocence.

The presumption of innocence, an ancient tenet of Criminal Law, is actually a misnomer. According to the U.S. Supreme Court, the presumption of the innocence of a criminal defendant is best described as an assumption of innocence that is indulged in the absence of contrary evidence (Taylor v. Kentucky, 436 U.S. 478, 98 S. Ct. 1930, 56 L. Ed. 2d 468 [1978]). It is not considered evidence of the defendant's innocence, and it does not require that a mandatory inference favorable to the defendant be drawn from any facts in evidence.

In practice the presumption of innocence is animated by the requirement that the government prove the charges against the defendant Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. This due process requirement, a fundamental tenet of criminal law, is contained in statutes and judicial opinions. The requirement that a person suspected of a crime be presumed innocent also is mandated in statutes and court opinions. The two principles go together, but they can be separated.

The Supreme Court has ruled that, under some circumstances, a court should issue jury instructions on the presumption of innocence in addition to instructions on the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt (Taylor v. Kentucky). A presumption of innocence instruction may be required if the jury is in danger of convicting the defendant on the basis of extraneous considerations rather than the facts of the case.

The presumption of innocence principle supports the practice of releasing criminal defendants from jail prior to trial. However, the government may detain some criminal defendants without bail through the end of trial. The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that excessive bail shall not be required, but it is widely accepted that governments have the right to detain through trial a defendant of a serious crime who is a flight risk or poses a danger to the public. In such cases the presumption of innocence is largely theoretical.

Aside from the related requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the presumption of innocence is largely symbolic. The reality is that no defendant would face trial unless somebody—the crime victim, the prosecutor, a police officer—believed that the defendant was guilty of a crime. After the government has presented enough evidence to constitute Probable Cause to believe that the defendant has committed a crime, the accused need not be treated as if he or she was innocent of a crime, and the defendant may be jailed with the approval of the court.

Nevertheless, the presumption of innocence is essential to the criminal process. The mere mention of the phrase presumed innocent keeps judges and juries focused on the ultimate issue at hand in a criminal case: whether the prosecution has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the alleged acts. The people of the United States have rejected the alternative to a presumption of innocence—a presumption of guilt—as being inquisitorial and contrary to the principles of a free society.


Criminal Procedure; Inquisitorial System.

presumption of innocence

n. a fundamental protection for a person accused of a crime, which requires the prosecution to prove its case against the defendant beyond a reasonable doubt. This is opposite from the criminal law in many countries, where the accused is considered guilty until he/she proves his/her innocence or the government completely fails to prove its case. (See: presumption, beyond a reasonable doubt)

presumption of innocence

noun assumption of innocence, belief of innocence, criminal standard of guilt, innocent until proven guilty, predisposition of innocence, premise rested on innocence, presupposition toward innooence, reasonable supposition of innocence, required assumption of innocence, required legal assumption of innocence, supposition of innocence
Associated concepts: fundamental rights
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In a statement, the Information Commissoner's Office said: "Our concern was that naming people who have only been charged alongside the label 'drink-driver' strongly implies a presumption of guilt for the offence, which we felt wouldn't fit with the Data Protection Act's fair and lawful processing principle.
Eavesdropping is usually built on a de facto presumption of guilt.
She added: "This unaccepable change in security policy would have transformed the presumption of innocence into a presumption of guilt for more than 500 million citizens, running counter to EU case law".
Beijing's foreign ministry, which has repeatedly denied that China engages in hacking, dismissed the report, with spokesman Hong Lei saying: "We oppose the presumption of guilt, without thorough investigation and solid evidence.
Both interrogations and plea bargaining are built on a presumption of guilt.
He also said that Machar's remarks should be reserved for a court of law as they currently suggest a presumption of guilt, "which runs counter to our accepted principle of justice that the accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty.
It deals with issues of confinement and touches on that situation where all too often there's a presumption of guilt from the police before a full investigation.
The Tunisian government had referred the case of Mahmoudi to the Tunisian justice which confirmed his involvement in such crimes as murder, abduction, rape, embezzlement of public funds and incitement to hatred," he said, adding that the decision to extradite Baghdadi Mahmoudi had been made by Tunisia's justice on the basis of presumption of guilt and not on political grounds.
With its presumption of guilt rather than innocence, the exclusion law "strikes at the heart of our judicial system," Brown said.
This paper will briefly outline the key advertising restrictions that have been introduced and will evaluate the legislature's 'gold-plating' element of the regulations - the introduction of a reversed presumption of guilt.
The caucus has agreed today that if presumption of guilt applies to ministers for Public Affairs, this rule must apply to ministers of the other coalition parties too," Karolina Peak, head of the party's parliament caucus, told journalists.
These hearings are notoriously hard to beat because there is a presumption of guilt whenever the breath or blood test shows that the accused is over the legal limit.