“Our procedure has always been haunted by the ghost of the innocent man convicted.”
—Judge Learned Hand (1923)
How many prospective jurors walk into a courtroom for jury selection, look at the defendant, and wonder “what did he do?” Why, one might ask, don’t prospective jurors instead ask themselves “I wonder what he was wrongfully accused of?” Doesn’t this question better reflect the “presumption of innocence?”
The concept of “Presumption of Innocence” is so important to criminal jurisprudence in the United States that it is a right guaranteed under the Constitution. But, what does it mean to be presumed innocent? You’ve heard it before. It means an accused is, and must continue to be, innocent until proven guilty.
But, how long should a juror presume a defendant is innocent? Until the person is arrested by the police? Or, until the Grand Jury returns an indictment? Until the case is set for trial?
No. Any person accused of a crime is innocent until and unless the State proves each and every element of the case beyond a reasonable doubt!!!
Therefore, if a prospective juror has heard no evidence from the courtroom, and that juror is asked to vote right then on the guilt of the accused without any courtroom evidence, their vote can only be … NOT GUILTY.
So, again, why wouldn’t a prospective juror ask themselves “I wonder what he was wrongfully accused of?” Does a failure to do so tilt the scales of justice against a defendant and, thereby, risk convicting an innocent man?
JD Slaughter, March 1, 2019