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Ask Marilyn: Assuming Innocence in Court
Don Chance of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, writes:
Marilyn: When we are called for jury duty on a criminal trial, as I was recently, we are told to assume that the defendant is "innocent until proven guilty." I find myself unable to make that assumption. We know that the police arrested the person, the district attorney investigated the incident, a grand jury may have brought an indictment, and the district attorney was willing to go to the time and effort of a trial. Those are a lot of factors that all point to guilt. Thus, I would tend to assume that the person is guilty, though as a juror I would certainly not vote to convict unless the evidence corroborated this impression beyond a reasonable doubt. Yet, I suspect most jurors and virtually all judges and lawyers would think my view is almost un-American. Is it?
Your view isn't un-American at all. Instead, it shows that you have respect for police, district attorneys, and our American court system in general. You can't emotionally assume a defendant is innocent without also assuming that our whole law-enforcement system is evil. (Why else would all these innocent defendants be in court?!) But you can certainly make that assumption intellectually. It's a little like a logic problem that starts, "Suppose all dogs bark." They don't, but of course you can accept the premise! And it seems that you are. Just remember: The burden of proof is on the prosecution, and making sure that they prove their case is what keeps us all safe.
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