Do Americans Really Believe in Innocent until Proven Guilty?
Saw an article regarding the Fort Hood trial and that the Defendant had been paid $300,000.00 while awaiting trial. There is a bill in the Congress to have that practice stopped, which raised a question in my mind “Do Americans Really Believe in Innocent until Proven Guilty?” I know this is an extreme case, it has been reported that the Fort Hood Defendant made statements he was the shooter in the case, but many cases when there is a trial the evidence does not turn out to be what was reported in the media. A person getting a fair trial turns on a lawyer working to excuses jurors that do not believe that a Defendant has a presumption of innocence until proven otherwise.
One of the hardest concepts to get across to potential jurors is what does it really mean to be “Innocent until Proven Guilty”. In Voir Dire lawyers ask questions that make people consider if they truly believe in the concept. We ask questions like “If someone is arrested, it is likely that the person is guilty of a crime? How often do the police make mistakes? How much trust do you have in the police?” or “Do any of you believe that a person charged with a crime should have to prove his innocent?”. But most people will either not answer or give the “correct answer” that they believe the lawyer wants to hear. It takes inventive questions to get potential jurors to really think about; do they believe that it is the Government’s burden to prove that a Defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
I try to personalize the concept to the juror. I ask questions similar to
“Have you ever been accused of something you didn’t do? How did that make you feel?”;
“Have you ever been punished for something that you didn’t do? Did that make you mad? Did you want to fight it?”;
“How many have kids? Have your kids ever gotten in trouble for something that they didn’t do? How did that make you feel? Did you think well my kid probably deserved it anyway?”
Hopefully this makes the potential jurors think about what the phrase truly means.
The phrase is said to have come from the Latin phrase – Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat meaning “Proof lies on him who asserts, not on him who denies” The concept of “Guilty Until Proven Guilty” is a little more complicated. From the Dictionary on the phrase:
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 ). 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.
When juries hold the Government to the standard of “proving the charges beyond a reasonable doubt” they some times come back with a verdict that is contrary to what the general public believes is right. Juries are not always correct in their verdict, but usually they are.
The question is, do we as citizens truly believe that a person has the right to be presumed innocent until the Government proves the charges against them beyond a reasonable doubt.