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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The presumption of guilt makes it easier to justify laughing at 23-going-on-zombie crack whores and bug-eyed misfits sporting felony-caliber mullets.
While no-one doubts that children need protection, Ms Keates added: "This presumption of guilt is one of the major flaws in the current system.
But the officials were quick to add, "Suspension is not a disciplinary sanction and it is emphasized that suspension should not be taken as a presumption of guilt.
The 60-year-old prelate, who is being sued by the woman's estranged husband, claims that damaging photos of the "adulterous" pair have been doctored and presumption of guilt emanating from the state-controlled media will prevent him from receiving a fair trial.
They also say the new system does not address basic problems in the Japanese criminal-justice system: the authorities' over-reliance on confessions, sometimes forced; the absence of discovery (pretrial disclosure of all information pertinent to a case); and a general presumption of guilt that leads to a 99.
Presumption of guilt replaced presumption of innocence.
Asked after practice Wednesday if he were concerned that his silence might result in a presumption of guilt, Bush was resolute.
Presumption of guilt and tarring by association abound, while the rules of evidence are perfunctory.
51 As one legal commentator has noted, while evidence of flight does not give rise to a presumption of guilt, it is "a circumstance which when considered together with all the facts of the case may justify the inference of the accused's guilt.
The NAIC's Producer Licensing Working Group, which has been fine-tuning the measure, recently agreed to make clear in the model act's wording that the presumption of guilt would stem only from the ultimate failure to deposit fiduciary funds into the proper account and failing to meet the 24-hour deadline would not be considered a criminal violation.
The threat of this presumption of guilt extends not just to authors and artists, but to the disseminators of culture as well: museums, libraries, publishers, retailers, teaching institutions.
But I do not accept that that need lead us hastily into an overturning of that rule to the point where there are people being tried in what will be - unless there are very carefully constructed safeguards - the presumption of guilt.