Presumption of Innocence

Presumption of Innocence

 

This case happens every day in courtrooms all over the country. Judges and lawyers are desperate to seat juries, while potential jurors are desperate to avoid jury duty or to put their stamp upon the proceedings. As a result, the business of selecting jurors occurs with a sort of wink and a nod. Jurors are asked to put aside whatever preconceived notions they have about a case — or about justice generally, or about the defendant in particular — and so long as they say they will do so they are allowed to join a panel that determines, in some cases, who lives and who dies, and who goes to prison for 123 years to life.

The presumption of innocence goes back thousands of years, to the Old Testament, to Greek and to Roman law, and to English common law, from which American law was born. Because the United States Supreme Court, 120 years ago in a case styled Coffin v. United States, decreed that "the principle that there is a presumption of innocence in favor of the accused is the undoubted law, axiomatic and elementary, and its enforcement lies at the foundation of the administration of our current law."

That is still the law of this land. It has not since been overturned. There are no exceptions to that rule in cases of alleged murderers or child rapists. Judges and jurors don't get to decide when they will honor this rule and when they won't.

Andrew Cohen from The Week, 4.10.14

 

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