Why the presumption of innocence is so important?
We all know that in criminal law, every person is presumed innocent, until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But what does this mean?
In the context of a criminal trial, this means the starting point for the judge / jury is that the accused person in innocent. From this starting point of innocence, the Crown must prove, with evidence, the guilt of the accused person. The standard of proof is very high – “beyond a reasonable doubt”. If the evidence fails to meet this standard of proof, the accused person must be found ‘not guilty’.
The presumption of innocence seems easily forgotten in the so-called “court of public opinion”. When high profile criminal cases capture media attention, the public opinion seems to sway towards presuming the person is guilty – before he even steps foot inside a courtroom to have a judge or jury determine whether or not he is guilty. This ‘presumption of guilt’ in the public’s opinion can be devastating to reputations; careers; families, and almost every other aspect of life. Even if eventually found ‘not guilty’ in a court of law, recovering from a public smearing of one’s name and reputation may prove impossible.