Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Innocent Until Proven Guilty

One misunderstood tenet of Anglo-American jurisprudence is the principle that in a criminal prosecution, the accused is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. It is a legal fiction whose purpose is protect the Constitutional rights of the defendant by compelling the prosecutor to prove each and every element of the crime for which the defendant stands accused.

People often wonder how an attorney can represent a criminal defendant the attorney knows is guilty. The answer is that the attorney's client is the United States Constitution. It is a criminal defense attorney's job to hold the prosecution to the standards of the United States Constitution.

Does this mean that many guilty people walk free? It certainly does. But there need to be limitations on the government's power, and the famous (albeit misunderstood) presumption of innocence is one such bulwark against tyranny.

Which brings us to the case of the People of the State of New York v. Dominique Strauss-Kahn. [For the truly clueless out there, Mr. Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund, now stands accused of sexually assaulting a chamber maid in his Manhattan hotel room.].

The French Government's official and unofficial statements implore the public and the media to keep in mind the presumption of innocence. And not inappropriately so.

Nevertheless, it was not until after France signed onto the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in 1953 that the French jurisprudence system extended that same presumption of innocence to criminal defendants. Under the Code Napoleon, the accused was guilty until proven innocent.

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