The Presumption of Innocence in the Me Too Era

Presumption of Innocence in the Me Too Era

One of the greatest things about being American is our country’s focus on liberty. Freedom is of such importance that almost everything is secondary to it. Out of this emphasis on liberty came the entire structure of our government and justice system. One of the ways our justice system protects freedom is by presuming innocence of criminal defendants until their guilt has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

This presumption of innocence is integral to the entire criminal process. The burden is on the state, meaning the state has to prove its position that the defendant is guilty. The defense, however, doesn’t have to prove innocence; the defense doesn’t have to prove anything. They simply have to attempt to dismantle the prosecutor’s case. The state is the party that has to show up to court ready with its evidence so that guilt can be proven. Until they do, the defendant is innocent.

The Innocence Project has shown how prevalent innocence is in criminal court. According to the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, there have been 1,600 exonerations since 1989 in the United States. With the innocent in prison, the real perpetrators of the crimes were able to commit an additional 70 sexual assaults and 32 murders.[i] Needless to say, the justice system is imperfect and filled with human error. This is why the presumption of innocence is so important. When someone is sentenced to serve the better part of his life in jail, the finder of fact must be firmly convinced that he truly deserves it.

Unfortunately, the presumption of innocence has been under siege, at least when public opinion is concerned. Of course, in court a defendant is always presumed innocent. However, in the public arena, an accusation alone is enough to ruin a person’s life. I say this as a supporter of the “Me Too” movement. But I have to admit that when the “Me Too” hashtag started, I was a little concerned that there would be an increase in false sexual assault allegations. I have no way of knowing whether or not there was such an increase, but I do know of at least one false allegation of a young man I briefly represented. And I am deeply disturbed by the possibility of someone making a false accusation that is defended by people who know nothing about the truth of the situation, who know nothing of the people involved, and who support one side over another due to personal bias alone. This sort of burden-shifting eats away at the fabric of what makes our country great.

When I posted “Me Too” on my personal facebook page, I wasn’t trying to get all of society to believe my story. I really believe that the movement was more about raising awareness of the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment. I wanted my friends to believe me. That was the problem, that people I considered friends dismissed the story I told them. “Me Too” was about getting people to listen on a personal level. I don’t think the intention was ever to shift the burden of proof to the accused. I do think that there is a lack of support for victims, but the support should be coming from their loved ones, not the media or celebrities or random people on the internet.

On a personal level, we should believe and support those close to us who have survived an assault. On a societal level, we should keep our opinions to ourselves and allow the justice system to make a determination. Until there is a finding of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, I have no reason to believe one person’s word over another’s, unless that person is my friend or loved one.

As a society, we should uphold the ideals our country was founded on. It’s unfortunate that these ideals have not always been perfectly implemented. Nevertheless, every time we have recognized our failure to live up to the principles set forth in the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, we have gone on to remedy the injustice accordingly and become more closely conformed to them. Let us not forget this when an accused person stands before a court of law, staring down a judgmental culture of people who have already made up their minds. Let us take comfort in the fact that we are always innocent until proven guilty.

[i] Pennsylvania Innocence Project,


Popular posts from this blog

Let It Be

The Charism of Raising Babies

St. Francis of Assisi Novena for Freedom from Distractions