What is “Presumption of Innocence” for those accused of a crime?
A bedrock principle of the American criminal jurisprudence is that a defendant accused of a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This ancient legal principle was passed down to us by the English Common Law. Before that, its origins can be traced back to the days of the Roman Empire. Most of the countries in the civilized world embrace this universal concept in varying forms, as evidenced by Article 11 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
In the United States, this iconic idea is expressed repeatedly in our case law, and is reflected in the due process guarantees of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. It also exists in statutory form in our Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, Article 38.03:
All persons are presumed to be innocent and no person may be convicted of an offense unless each element of the offense is proved beyond a reasonable doubt. The fact that he has been arrested, confined, or indicted for, or otherwise charged with, the offense gives rise to no inference of guilt at his trial.
What exactly does Presumption of Innocence mean?
The term “presumption” means the acceptance of something as being true. In the legal context, the phrase “presumption of innocence” means that a judge or jury must start the trial by accepting a defendant’s innocence at the beginning. Once the trial begins, however, the presumption of innocence becomes a “rebuttable” presumption, meaning that the prosecution can overcome the presumption by introducing evidence at trial tending to show that the defendant is indeed guilty of the alleged crime. If the prosecution can convince the jury of the defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, then the presumption is rebutted and the jury should vote to convict the defendant.
A practical consequence of this concept is that a criminal defendant is under no obligation to prove his/her innocence at trial; rather, it is the prosecution’s burden to prove the defendant’s guilt. Therefore, a defendant does not have to introduce any evidence whatsoever at trial if he/she chooses not to do so. This is a subtle but very important distinction that every good criminal defense attorney will take special care to insure the jury understands.
What is the Burden of Proof that the prosecution must meet?
The presumption of innocence and the burden of proof are interrelated concepts which must work together hand-in-hand. As mentioned above, the burden of proof in criminal cases is responsibility of the prosecution at all times. That burden is called “beyond a reasonable doubt.” This is the highest burden of proof imposed across all categories of law.
Beyond a reasonable doubt has no precise legal definition, so each individual juror is allowed to decide what that phrase means to them. This absence of a definition also allows both the prosecution and the defense attorney to be creative when arguing to the jury regarding how the standard is to be applied to the facts of any particular case. And this is why you, if you are a defendant charged with a crime, want to be sure that you choose your defense attorney wisely, since he/she will be in a dynamic struggle with the a skilled prosecutor in the ultimate fight to retain your freedom from incarceration.
How can I get more information about this topic?
If you are charged with a criminal offense you should contact a competent defense attorney skilled in the practice of criminal law immediately in order to begin work on your defense. The Bigham Law Firm has the attorneys with the experience, expertise, and resources to properly represent you in these difficult types of cases.
If you would like more information about how to protect yourself in any criminal case, please call the Bigham Law Firm at (979) 743-4153for a free consultation.
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Ken Bigham Jr. has nearly three decades of experience navigating the law to protect his clients from unfair treatment by insurance companies, the government and corporations. He believes that Bigham Law’s purpose is to provide outstanding value to its clients and compassionate service to its community.
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