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Not again! Brave New World

Posted by Lewis on July 21, 2003

In Reply to: "..innocent until proven guilty.." posted by janes_kid on July 20, 2003

: : : We often hear that the United States Constitution guarantees that an accused is "..innocent until proven guilty.." in a court of law. I have done a word by word search on a site that claims to present the complete text of the US Constitution and I cannot find the words "guilty" or "innocent". Are they in the Constitution? If not, where did the phrase "..innocent until proven guilty.." originate?

: : The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution reads, in part, "No person shall be ... deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law ..."

: : What this means, in plain terms, is that constitutionally you cannot be executed, imprisoned, or fined without the proper course of justice taking place.As you found out, due process, itself, is not defined in the constitution, but is universally recognized as meaning what we term as "a fair trial."

: : Going forward from there, a fair trial by a jury of one's peers requires that the jurors approach the case with the thought that the prosecution is required to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Since the trial begins with the prosecution not having introduced a single piece of evidence, it follows that a defendant must be innocent, until proven guilty.

: So, the meaning of "..innocent until proven guilty.." derives from the fifth amendment but who coined the phrase?

It may amaze a certain segment of the American population, but there were laws before the United States had been discovered by Old-Worlders, let alone before it had a Constitution.

I cannot say whether "the presumption of innocence" is derived from Greek, Roman, Mosaic Law or even of that of Hammurabi, but I am 100% certain that it pre-dates the American Constitution by approaching the odd millenium, even in Europe.

"The presumption of innocence" that a person is "innocent until proven guilty" is the Golden Thread that runs through (criminal) law. It was what is known as "common law" and although it has appeared in statutes (Acts and suchlike) and been varied from time to time, it is part of what people would consider "natural justice".

The criminal burden of proof is not that a person is guilty just because it is "more likely than not" that they did something, but if there is any "reasonable doubt" about guilt, then that person is entitled to be acquitted. That is the "burden of proof" in criminal trials and it rests upon the precept that a person is only "guilty" after a fair trial - or as you may say "due process of law".

Please think about what you ask - the world was quite an interesting place even before Europeans settled in North America and when they went over, they still had, say 300 years (1492-1776), without a national identity or corporate logo. 1776 was NOT the beginning of the world and to suggest it was would be to risk several billion Chinese people laughing at once.