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What is the Presumption of Innocence?

  • August 19, 2016

    While most people have heard the term “presumption of innocence” in TV police procedurals or courtroom dramas, the concept behind the term is one of the cornerstones of Western law.

    The Meaning of Presumption of Innocence

    The Latin expression of the important historical concept in Roman law of presumed innocence is “Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat” (the burden of proof is on he who declares, not on he who denies).

    In other words, a person who accuses you of a crime, law enforcement officers or a prosecutor, must prove that you are guilty of the crime. You never need to prove that you are innocent.

    In some other countries, which do not operate under the same tenets of Roman and English Common Law as we do, the opposite is true. All the state needs to do is to charge you with any crime at all. It will be up to you to prove that you are not guilty.

    Logically, it is impossible to prove a negative. If those states say you are guilty of fomenting revolution, try and prove it isn’t so. A multiple award-winning Mexican documentary film, “Presumed Guilty” (Spanish: “Presunto Culpable”) is a 2009 depiction of several instances of this type of perverted justice.

    For those interested in the law, this is a good introduction to why some lawyers fight so hard for persons in this country who are subjected to some localized perversions of the law.

    The Burden of the State in Prosecutions

    In countries in which the accused is presumed innocent, the entire burden of proving guilt is upon the prosecution, representing the state. The accused need not testify, present any evidence or call any witnesses.

    This does not happen often, but may be considered safer than opening doors for the prosecution. Consider the case if the defense brings forth witnesses to testify how much the defendant has changed for the better since getting out of rehab and quitting drug use.

    While this seems like a good idea on the surface and it’s nice that he is doing better, the prosecution may not have known about it. This testimony opens the door (an actual legal concept) for the prosecution to delve into his history of drug use, domestic violence or abuse, etc.

    In the case of countries which have no presumption of innocence, the burdens are reversed. The state merely needs to point the finger.

    The entire burden is, instead, on the accused. They are literally presumed guilty. Needless to say, persons who are considered political enemies of the ruling party or persons are most frequently in this position.

    The Importance of Presumed Innocence

    Of all the rights that are enjoyed by Westernized democracies, the presumption of innocence is possibly the most important. Without that right, all the others are impossible or meaningless.

    By establishing the firm concept and law to presume the innocence of all accused parties, democracy is truly allowed to grow.

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