Saturday, November 24, 2007

the truth is so hard

The fundamental right

This right is so important in modern democracies that many have explicitly included it in their legal codes and constitutions:

* In Canada, section 11(d) of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states: "Any person charged with an offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty according to law in a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal".

* In France, article 9 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, of constitutional value, says "Everyone is supposed innocent until having been declared guilty." and the preliminary article of the code of criminal procedure says "any suspected or prosecuted person is presumed to be innocent until their guilt has been established". The jurors' oath reiterates this assertion.

* Although the Constitution of the United States does not cite it explicitly, presumption of innocence is widely held to follow from the 5th, 6th and 14th amendments. See also Coffin v. United States
* In the 1988 Brazilian constitution, article 5, section LVII states that "no one shall be considered guilty before the issuing of a final and unappealable penal sentence".

* The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 11, states: Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which they have had all the guarantees necessary for their defence.

* The Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of the Council of Europe says (art. 6.2): "Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law". This convention has been adopted by treaty and is binding on all Council of Europe members. Currently (and in any foreseeable expansion of the EU) every country member of the European Union is also member to the Council of Europe, so this stands for EU members as a matter of course.

[edit] The presumption of innocence in practice

Few systems have had, de jure, presumption of guilt. Accusations of presumption of guilt generally do not imply an actual legal presumption of guilt, but rather denounce some failures in ensuring that suspects are treated well and are offered good defense conditions. Typical infringements follow:

* In some systems, suspects may be held on long periods on remand, while inquiries proceed. Such long imprisonment constitutes, in practice, a hardship and a punishment for the suspect, even though he or she has not yet been sentenced. (see speedy trial)
* Courts may prefer the testimonies of persons of certain class, status, ethnicity, gender, or political standing over those of others, regardless of actual circumstances.
* In Europe and the Americas, prior to the French Revolution, it was common that justice could have suspects tortured so as to extract a confession from them. Even though the suspects were not, at this point, legally guilty, they were exposed to considerable pain, often with lasting physical consequences.
* Many public institutions, such as universities will punish members accused of felonies after they are indicted even if they have not been convicted. An example is the 2006 Duke University lacrosse team scandal where the accused were suspended even though they had not been convicted under a policy that punishes students who are merely indicted.

Guaranteeing the presumption of innocence extends beyond the judicial system. For instance, in many countries journalistic codes of ethics state that journalists should refrain from referring to suspects as though their guilt was certain. For example, they use "suspect" or "defendant" when referring to the suspect, and use "allegedly" when referring to the criminal activity that the suspect is accused of.

More subtly, publishing of the prosecution's case without proper defense argumentation may in practice constitute presumption of guilt. Publishing a roster of arrested suspects may constitute undeserved punishment as well, since in practice it damages the reputation of innocent suspects. Private groups fighting certain abuses may also apply similar tactics, such as publishing the real name, address, and phone number of suspects, or even contacting the suspects' employer, friends and neighbors (as an example, does so in order to shame suspected child molesters).

Modern practices aimed at curing social ills may run against presumption of innocence. Some civil rights activists feel that pre-employment drug testing, while legal, violates this principle, as potential employees are presumed to be users of illegal drugs, and must prove themselves innocent via the test. Similarly, critics argue that some dispositions of laws against sexual harassment or racial discrimination show a presumption of guilt. These dispositions were meant to ease the burden of proof on the victim, since in practice harassment or discrimination practices are hard to prove.

Civil rights activists note that the well-meaning practices so adopted may have a deleterious effect on justice being served. An example is the use of a screen in sexual assault cases, which is set up in some jurisdictions to prevent the complainant from being distressed at the sight of the accused. Where a victim was in fact victimized by the accused, this may be argued to serve the principles of therapeutic justice [1] [2]. However, where an accused is in fact innocent, this may send a message to the jury that the court has already accepted that in fact a crime was committed, which burden of proof has traditionally been on the prosecution, and which furthermore is a matter of fact that is not for the court to judge, but rather, for the jury. Not only this but also even more importantly, such a shield may also send a message that the complainant is upset by the sight of the accused, once again because guilt is seen to have been assumed by the court in so shielding the complainant. The psychological effects of such a screen have not yet been well researched, but the tension between the two views is a problem for therapeutic justice, which must weigh protection of genuine victims from genuine offenders against the potential for an unjust conviction that such protection may create.[3]

[edit] Differences between legal systems
This article or section may contain original research or unverified claims.
Please improve the article by adding references. See the talk page for details. (September 2007)

A common opinion held in countries based on common law is that in civil law or inquisitorial justice systems, the accused does not enjoy a presumption of innocence. This idea results from the fact that in most civil law nations, an investigating magistrate supervises police investigations. To common law countries with adversarial systems, the civil law criminal justice system appears to be hopelessly biased, since the judge should remain as impartial as possible. However the magistrate does not determine innocence or guilt and functions much as a grand jury does in common law nations. Furthermore, in many civil law jursidictions (such as Germany and Austria), police investigations are supervised by a prosecutor, and a judge is involved only in cases where a warrant is required for purposes of the investigation for restrictive measures as, e.g., arrest, search and seizure, or wiretapping. Courts are often organized in a manner that it will not be the same judge who will determine the guilt or innocence of the suspect.

In the view of supporters of the inquisitorial system, the latter is less biased than the adversarial system, since the judges supervising cases are independent and bound by law to direct their enquiries both in favor or against the guilt of any suspect, compared to prosecutors in an adversarial system, who will, it is claimed, look only for evidence pointing to guilt and whose re-appointments may depend on the number of successful prosecutions that they have brought.

In particular, a court under the civil law system is not bound to a confession of guilt of an accused person. Thus, technically, the accused cannot plead "guilty". In quite a number of cases, courts had acquitted accused persons who had made a confession before the court, because it was found that the confession had not been credible. A common motive for false confessions is the aim of the accused to distract suspicion from a third person, to whom the confessing person maintains a personal relation. Supporters of the inquisitorial system maintain that the possibility of acquittal of a confessing accused is required to guarantee objective truth in criminal proceedings. Since criminal proceedings were mainly instituted in the public interest, the personal pleadings of the accused could not be formally decisive for the case. For this reason, the accused person is not regarded as a party in criminal proceedings, but rather as a participant - of course with own specific rights. The reluctance of legislators to accept deals between prosecution, the accused, and the court is also based on to the notion on public interest involved in criminal proceedings and the suspicion that such deals may tamper the finding of objective truth.

In general, civil law based justice systems, especially in Europe, avoid use of the term innocent, since it carries a moral charge separate from the phrase not guilty. It is argued a person who is found not guilty still cannot always claim to be innocent, e.g. if he/she has used lethal force in case of valid self-defence exerted against a mentally handicapped attacker with very low IQ. The wording is therefore delivered in a more formal and neutral manner, such that an accused is either declared guilty, not guilty for lack of a crime, not guilty due to lack of evidence, or not guilty due to lack of jurisdiction (in the case that a child or lunatic is accused). Such plain language is better suited for the predominantly written proceedings and less emotionally-charged nature of civil law trials.

Another common misunderstanding which leads to the assumption that the presumption of innocence is not applied in civil law systems might be based on the fact that many jurisdictions allow administrative bodies to fine minor misdemeanors, in particular traffic violations, without prior obtaining a court judgment and sometimes "on the spot". However, all procedural laws in all continental European countries which grant such rights to administrative bodies allow for a motion for independent judicial review of the case.

[edit] See also

* Blackstone's formulation
* Richard Brodhead

[edit] External links

* The History of Presumed Innocence
* The effects of presuming innocence
* Justice:Denied magazine reports on the miscarriages of justice that occur when the presumption of innocence is not respected.
* Coffin v. United States, 156 U.S. 432; 15 S. Ct. 394

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Categories: Articles that may contain original research since September 2007 | Rights of the accused

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