The Presumption Of Innocence
Published: October 3rd, 2018
By: Joe Angelino

The presumption of innocence

What a Senate spectacle we all saw play out last week. Along with half of the country, I watched the 2018 version of the supreme he-said, she-said show uninterrupted. The testimony was riveting, to say the least. The emotions from Christine Blasey Ford seemed genuine, in spite of her anxiousness. Who wouldn’t be nervous speaking about such a private matter in that situation?

Brett Kavanaugh’s follow-on testimony was just as expected - adamant denial. His demeanor was emotional and at times angry but completely honest. It was quite surprising when Judge Kavanaugh referenced a personal, hand-doodled calendar from the summer of 1982 supporting his version of events.

Even more surprising than a grown man possessing his teenaged schedule were the comments made by US senators about the presumption of innocence. More than half of the United States Senate membership are attorneys - 57%. Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, from both sides of the political aisle, are attorneys; Doctors of Jurisprudence in other words.

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Comments made by some senators before, during and after last Thursday’s testimony are troubling. Our own senior senator, Harvard Law School-educated Chuck Schumer said last Tuesday “there's no presumption of innocence or guilt when you have a nominee before you”.

Our junior senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, also an attorney, was slightly more descriptive in her rejection of due process. She said “those [due process and presumed innocent] are the standards for a trial. Those are the standards in criminal justice. We are not having a trial. This is not a court."

She’s correct; Brett Kavanaugh isn’t on trial in court. The standards of criminal justice probably shouldn’t be considered when evaluating sworn testimony for a judge nominee to the Supreme Court of the United States – sarcasm, folks.

Apparently, the American Bar Association won’t admonish its members who speak like this about the bedrock of our justice system, which leaves it up to we the people to tell our elected officials of our displeasure. It is hard to imagine a judge, district attorney or prosecutor getting away with any of these comments.

Over the weekend even the famed ACLU, an organization who presumes everyone innocent and has defended the likes of military traitors, Nazis, and members of the KKK, decided that Judge Kavanaugh bears the burden of proving himself not guilty of Blasey Ford’s stand-alone charges.

The presumption of innocence of all people accused of wrongdoing is one of the deepest tenets of human rights, going back to the Magna Carta when it was eloquently worded “prior to judgment, you are undeserving of punishment”. This presumption of innocence is so ubiquitous; it didn’t need mention by our forefathers in the Bill of Rights or Constitution.

Some people think the presumption of innocence is a legal, courtroom standard that doesn’t pertain to everyday people; all that legal jargon is only for lawyers. That’s how people justify spreading innuendo or rumors, particularly on social media, that hurt reputations, damage careers and cause marital discord. The damage is much crueler when the author is anonymous or the allegation doesn’t need corroborating evidence to substantiate the facts. And it is at its worst when people blindly believe falsehoods being spread.

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If our society at all levels doesn’t remain true to basic principles and allows such talk to become mainstream thinking, it won’t be long before one of you might be accused of some heinous offense leaving you trying to prove a negative.

It wasn’t that all that long ago women accused of sorcery had the burden to publicly prove otherwise by the most difficult means; hold her head underwater, if she drowns she was mortal - if she survives she’s a witch. Many mortals were proven honest that way.