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Presumed Innocent? Bernie Madoff?

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"Unless you're a juror, there's no reason to suspend judgment."

One of my pet peeves is that people take presumptions out of their courtroom context, where they serve specific but valuable functions, and insist that we apply them across the board. Sometimes they even drop the presumption language and preposterously assert them as fact, e.g., "The defendant is innocent until proven guilty."

Dan Abrams of NBC attacks this nonsense in an op-ed in the WSJ, with the title and subtitle above.

As a citizen -- or even a TV legal analyst -- am I required to presume innocence, i.e., that the authorities arrest the wrong person in every case? Not a chance. Imagine how this might play out on television:

"So Dan, how bad is it for (insert name of minor reality-show celebrity here) that the authorities found a pound of cocaine and four ounces of heroin on his person and in his car, the entire arrest was captured on videotape and the defendant confessed the drugs were his?"

"Bad? Bob, I have to presume the defendant innocent, so I'll presume those drugs were planted by corrupt police officers well before the car came into focus on the tape. And that confession? Well, it must have been coerced." That would hardly reflect an effort to assess and evaluate the legal strategies and evidence as fairly and objectively as possible.

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Demanding that all of us presume every defendant innocent outside of a courtroom is to demand that we stop evaluating facts, thereby suffocating independent thought and opinion. There is nothing "reasonable" about that.

The same principle applies post-trial. The jury's acquittal of O. J. Simpson means the State of California cannot prosecute him again and punish him for the murder of Nicole Brown and Ron Goldman. It most certainly does not mean the rest of us have to accept as fact that he is innocent. The same is true for the "exonerated" death row inmates featured on DPIC's so-called "innocence list." DPIC insists that we must accept that they are innocent because that is how the system works. Malarkey, to borrow Abrams' word.

Exemption from punishment does not equal innocence. The perpetrator of a crime is guilty from the moment he commits it, and he remains guilty no matter what the legal system does with his case. In a system intentionally constructed on the premise that it is better for 10 guilty men to go free than for 1 innocent to be punished, we need to keep in mind that many of those who have gone free are, indeed, guilty.

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The other, really irritating, thing about Dieter's "innocence" list is its sophistry. To the extent that the list is populated with those who actually did it, the system's procedural liberality is being used against it.

With respect to the acceptance as fact--as much as liberals want to think otherwise, a court judgment does not make untrue what actually happened.

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