Friday, December 19, 2008

To the People of Illinois: There is No Presumption of Innocence in the Court of Public Opinion

"To the people of Illinois, I ask that they wait and be patient, sit back and take a deep breath, and please reserve judgment. Afford me the same rights that you and your children have. The presumption of innocence. The right to defend yourself. The right to your day in court. The same rights that you would expect for yourselves."
—Rod Blagojevich, 12/19/08

The legal right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty does not apply outside the courtroom. Let me repeat that: if you are not the judge or the jury in Blagojevich's criminal case, the presumption of innocence doctrine is irrelevant and has no bearing on what you say or think. Outside the courtroom, you are allowed to make judgments about the guilt or innocence of the accused, and to profess your views any way you like, make signs, go on television, whatever. The presumption of innocence, as Dick Cavett reminds us, "has nothing whatever to do with you and me. We can talk, write, broadcast and even put up a billboard (if so foolish) stating that the accused is the one who did it. It has to do with our system. If you find yourself accused of a crime, you do not have to prove your innocence. The burden is on the other side. The prosecution has to prove your guilt. That’s about it. And it is not even a rule of law. It is a rule of evidence, relevant only to the judge and the jury."

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