Innocent until proven guilty?
Written by Steven Weir
Criminal Defense Attorney
Contributor Level 11
So, is a person "Innocent until proven guilty"?
No, NO, a thousand times NOOO!!!
I can't tell you the number of times I've heard the legal standard mistated in this way. Forget what your neighbor or your high school civics teacher said. Forget what you heard on TV. Nobody is ever innocent until proven guilty, either in real life, or in a real courtroom. And this isn't just a matter of semantics. It has real life implications. So let's start by understanding where the phrase comes from, and what it means in the real world.
The correct way of stating this principle is that an individual is PRESUMED innocent IN THE EYES OF THE LAW until such time as there is a finding of guilt by a judge or a jury.
This is what is known as a "legal fiction". It is a way to treat people when we have not come to a point in time where we have enough information produced as admissible evidence in court to consider a person guilty of a crime, and it's time to make a determination of whether or not we think s/he is guilty. We assume, without regard to the actual truth, that the person is innocent, until such time that such a determination is made by the judge or a jury that the individual is indeed guilty. Then and only then are we supposed to treat the individual as guilty in the eyes of the law.