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.

Cross-references

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)

References in periodicals archive ?
Frank Lampard, who will skipper the side against Spain, echoed Capello's sentiments that Terry is innocent until proven guilty.
"We want the government to follow the law to the letter before they ask the people to follow the law - and the accused should be innocent until proven guilty," said Mr Khalil, who has served as parliament's financial and economic affairs committee head for the past four years.
Local councillor Billy McAllister said: "This individual is innocent until proven guilty but child protection is paramount."
He offends the moral principle found in American jurisprudence of "suspects are presumed innocent until proven guilty." Burns accuses, tries, and convicts three people of something about which he knows practically nothing factual.
I WOULD like to challenge three of the letter writers in Monday's Racing Post over their claims that British law operates on an 'innocent until proven guilty' principle.
INNOCENT until proven guilty - that is the form justice should take in this country.
Under Article 6.2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), 'everyone charged with an offence shall be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law'.
Advocates say it is no more intrusive than comparing fingerprints from crime scenes, while some opponents say it contradicts the principle of innocent until proven guilty.
We're a country that believes you're innocent until proven guilty. People are concerned in this country that the rule of law is being subjected to a method that'd destroy what we have in this country."
"We live in a society where you are innocent until proven guilty," says Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Jersey.
Not to mention the concept of innocent until proven guilty. Wasn't too long ago people thought a solar eclipse was a dragon eating the sun as it rode across the sky on the back of a giant turtle.
I ask, whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? As for myself, I'll reserve my own opinion until I hear all of the facts that have tragically cost the life of a young child and the liberty of his two grieving parents.