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How important is the presumption of innocence?

On Behalf of | Jan 22, 2024 | Criminal Defense

Law enforcement and prosecution services have numerous powers at their disposal when investigating and prosecuting criminal cases. Nonetheless, these powers must not override fundamental constitutional rights of U.S. citizens. 

This is a balancing act and it is one that sometimes goes wrong. It’s important to remember that anyone accused of a criminal offense is presumed innocent until proven guilty. The defendant needn’t prove anything at all. 

If you have been accused of a criminal offense, here are a few things to keep in mind:

The burden of proof in criminal cases

The burden of proof in criminal cases is higher than in civil cases. In civil cases, courts will side with the party who proves their claim based on the balance of probabilities. This means that their version of events is more likely to have occurred than not. 

The evidential standard is much higher in criminal cases. The prosecution must, based on fairly obtained evidence, prove their case beyond all reasonable doubt. This means that if any reasonable doubt is present, the accused should not be convicted. 

Rights that should not be overridden 

While law enforcement and the prosecution can investigate cases and obtain evidence, they must do so within the confines of the law. They should not infringe on the individual’s right to privacy. 

Search and seizure laws are governed by the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. To lawfully gather evidence from a search, the police often need to have a valid search warrant based on probable cause. The only exception to this is if there is a legitimate emergency, such as a life being endangered at the time of the search or a consensual search. You do not have to consent to a search.  

Another fundamental right that should not be overridden is the right not to make self-incriminating statements. This is governed by the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution. Anyone charged with a criminal offense must be reminded of this right and be given the opportunity to assert it. Forced confessions and coerced statements are one of the leading causes of wrongful convictions. 

All citizens should be afforded the presumption of innocence. Wrongful convictions can occur when such rights are not taken seriously. If you’ve been charged with a criminal offense, it’s imperative to seek further legal guidance.