Innocent Until Proven Guilty

What does Innocent until proven guilty really mean?

     This has been an issue and question that has continued to arise in America for generations. What does “innocent until proven guilty” look like? How far should the system go to make sure that a victim is protected while at the same time not infringing on the rights of the accused? Should a person lose their life when there is a reasonable doubt that they may not be guilty?

What is the issue?

    Since the founding of American “law and order” we have always used the understanding and notion that a person accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty. We embed it into our court rooms and announce it every opportunity we get. But when you take a step back and look at the way “justice” flows this is not truly how the system works. The system is more of a guilty until proven innocent and this process has caused many people to lose their livelihood, families, homes, and reputations.

 

    So, we must begin to ask ourselves the question; how we can change this culture and make justice fairer for everyone. How can we assure that everyone is given the same fundamental right to have their voice heard while at the same time ensuring victims are protected? How can we make sure that judges are not bias and are not determining a person’s innocence or guilt by just listening to one side of the information provided and completely ignoring the other side?

Can we protect a victim’s rights and an accuser’s rights at the same time?

    Absolutely! There are multiple ways that you can protect the rights of the accuser while at the same time not interfering with the rights of the accused to have their day in court. The first step in this process is to make sure that both sides have legit representation and both sides are given the same credibility. Yes, the burden of proof is on the prosecution, however when bias is present in the judicial system the burden is not very heavy for the prosecution to carry.

 

    I recall being a part of a bond hearing where the accused was charged with a sexual battery and aggravated sodomy charge. At the bond hearing the state spent most of the time discussing the defendant’s past criminal history, which was non-violent and irrelevant to the current accusation. The defendant (accused) had multiple witnesses ready to speak to his character and the accuser did not even show up, her dad was there to speak on her behalf. The only person who could speak was the accuser’s father. None of the defendant’s character witnesses were ever heard. The bias is now interjected to the case, where the defendant is painted as a criminal due to an unrelated, non-violent, and non-sexual crime.

   Of course, there is no catch all solution as to how to strengthen rights for the accused because every crime is different. But in the above scenario dealing with a sexually based offense, the accuser is given anonymity, and rightfully so. But what about the accused? What if the accused is found not guilty but his name and face have already been plastered in local media? Friends, family, and co-workers will probably see him in a different way. And that new viewpoint of the person is based on a crime the law has said he did not commit.

    I believe our best bet to truly have a justice system that operates as innocent until proven guilty starts with tackling bias at the root. That means our laws, our appointed judges, and our law enforcement all must be reviewed. Those who are meant to enforce law, interpret law, and advocate law should be required to take some sort of diversity & inclusion course so that they can first be aware of any bias.

   On the other side of the coin, we must look at what happens to those who falsely accuse someone of a crime. Think about it, if you falsely pull a fire alarm and there is no fire that is a crime. Why? Because now you have caused panic, and someone could potentially get hurt. Why does this same standard of thinking not apply to those who intentionally make false accusations against someone? The sense of panic, the lifealtering ordeal of having to defend your name and having every detail of your life poked and prodded must be mentally draining.

   Every system has its issues, and the American judicial system is no exception but tackling these issues head on and restoring the trust of the American people is key. Honestly, it will require work from every single angle, but I do believe we can chip away at the parts that are not working as intended. Ensuring every person has the right to a fair trial is a right that does not have to be earned, so I think the criminal justice system owes it to us to continuously search for ways to improve.

How can we make the system fairer?

     One of the many things I am learning is that when there is an issue with the system, we must work on the policies that affect it. Our system needs reform, but it is only going to happen through a collaborative effort to change the policies that are outdated and allow for a racial and bias system. Our company proposes eliminating the grand jury process. Prosecutors can pursue charges without there being this secretive and unnecessary process. As much as I hear prosecutors say how much this is needed to protect the defendant it really is an unnecessary cost and process. But also, District Attorneys must realize that their job is to prosecute, enforce the law and do it in a just and fair way. Meaning that they also must review cases with a stern eye and with a heart as well. To many prosecutors just see people as another number and forget that these are fathers and mother, brothers and sisters, aunts and even uncles. Especially when we have a jail system that does nothing to rehabilitate and prepare offenders for reentry into society. So, I call on every District Attorney, Magistrate and Superior court judge to come to the table and talk about how we can reform the system to reinstate the notion of innocence until guilt. Let us work to make sure that the system is fair for all and that prosecutors do their job from a place of heart and humility. Remembering that we serve a God of second chances and who judges righteous and fairly.