Listening to Anthony Graves today at the HCCLA Winning Warriors Defender Trial Tactics CLE, I couldn’t help keying on many things he said, one of which was “it shouldn’t be innocent until proven guilty, but rather innocent unless proven guilty.” He was talking about the presumption of innocence and how it truly doesn’t apply (most times) when the accusations are heinous.
The accused is supposed to be presumed innocent; protected in a blanket of innocence unless the prosecutor can prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. Often in voir dire (fancy word for jury selection), potential jurors are asked if they think the accused is guilty. Many want to say no. Many honestly answer, “he wouldn’t be here if he didn’t do something.” Say what? This ignores the very principle of a presumption of innocence. The prospective juror has just assumed a certain level of guilt: where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
But what about people like Anthony Graves – actually innocent! In no way connected to the offense. Wasn’t even in the same town at the time of the offense. Was not a criminal. Had the misfortune of being identified in a lie.
What about people like Michael Morton – actually innocent! Only presumed a suspect because it was his wife who was killed and other leads were ignored. Was not involved in any way with the offense. A white collar business man. Not someone involved in the criminal justice system.
What about people like Ronald Cotton – actually innocent! Picked by an eyewitness, the rape victim, but later exonerated by DNA. The victim acknowledges her mis-identification. A man in the wrong place at the wrong time.
With more and more exonerations, it’s hard to believe that any accused is afforded a presumption of innocence. We, as a society, have taken away that presumption. We have lowered our standards of proof and err on the side of locking people up rather than worrying about convicting the innocent.
It’s time to restore the presumption of innocence and presume people innocent unless the government can prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt!