Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Innocent until charged

The dictum Innocent until proven guilty is a popular one used to describe the American Justice system, but it's a far from accurate description.

The idea of a presumption of innocence stems from the burden on the state (or plaintiff in a civil action) to prove all elements of the accusation beyond a reasonable doubt (or to a lessor standard in civil actions).

One of the most common examples of a statutory presumption of guilt is in charges of intent to distribute narcotics. Mere possession of a specified amount creates a legal presumption of intent, the burden of proof shifts to the accused to proof that he didn't really commit the crime of intent to distribute narcotics. Not exactly what we like to think of when we think of a presumption of innocence.

Presumptions of guilt also arises in criminal offense related to DWI, bad checks, a wide, wide range of criminal offenses. It's almost become the norm in American criminal proceedings.

It's even worse than that though. As Simple Justice points out, prosecutors often don't even have to tell you what you're actually accused of doing.

One of the reasons out prisons are all over-flowing is that we just keep making it easier for prosecutors to fill them up with people they can't prove actually did anything wrong.


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