Presumption of Innocence

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps
 
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A principle that requires the government to prove the guilt of a criminal defendant and relieves the defendant of any burden to prove his or her innocence.

The presumption of innocence, an ancient tenet of CRIMINAL LAW, is actually a misnomer. According to the U.S. Supreme Court, the presumption of the innocence of a criminal defendant is best described as an assumption of innocence that is indulged in the absence of contrary evidence (Taylor v. Kentucky, 436 U.S. 478, 98 S. Ct. 1930, 56 L. Ed. 2d 468 [1978]). It is not considered evidence of the defendant's innocence, and it does not require that a mandatory inference favorable to the defendant be drawn from any facts in evidence.

In practice the presumption of innocence is animated by the requirement that the government prove the charges against the defendant BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT. This DUE PROCESS requirement, a fundamental tenet of criminal law, is contained in statutes and judicial opinions. The requirement that a person suspected of a crime be presumed innocent also is mandated in statutes and court opinions. The two principles go together, but they can be separated.

The Supreme Court has ruled that, under some circumstances, a court should issue jury instructions on the presumption of innocence in addition to instructions on the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt (Taylor v. Kentucky). A presumption of innocence instruction may be required if the jury is in danger of convicting the defendant on the basis of extraneous considerations rather than the facts of the case.

The presumption of innocence principle supports the practice of releasing criminal defendants from jail prior to trial. However, the government may detain some criminal defendants without bail through the end of trial. The EIGHTH AMENDMENT to the U.S. Constitution states that excessive bail shall not be required, but it is widely accepted that governments have the right to detain through trial a defendant of a serious crime who is a flight risk or poses a danger to the public. In such cases the presumption of innocence is largely theoretical.

Aside from the related requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the presumption of innocence...

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