Most people are familiar with the phrase “innocent until proven guilty.” Most Americans know that when a person is accused of a crime in the United States, they are presumed to be innocent. In fact, during a trial, the jurors are told repeatedly through the judge’s instructions that the defendant is to be presumed innocent.
The reason a criminal defendant is presumed innocent is to emphasize that the prosecution has the burden of proof. The prosecution is required to produce the evidence against the person standing trial, and a criminal defendant is not required to produce anything. In fact, if a criminal defense attorney wanted to, they could sit through a trial and never ask a question, put a witness on the stand or say anything. As long as they behave, the attorney and defendant would be permitted to sit through the trial without doing or saying a thing. At the end of the case, the jury would still have to decide if the prosecutor met their burden to present enough evidence to find the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
While the “presumption of innocence” is one of the most fundamental legal instruments to favor the accused, it is counter-intuitive to how our brains really operate.
How many times have you seen a car pulled over on the side of the road and wondered, “I wonder what that guy did.” We all do it. Our curiosity makes us wonder what happened. If the person is standing in handcuffs outside of the car, our minds might go a little further. Someone would not be getting arrested unless they did something illegal.
The presumption of innocence does not work like that. If our brains were trained to automatically use the presumption of innocence, we would be wondering, “I wonder what that person is accused of doing that they probably didn’t do.” Most people just do not think like that.
Likewise, when a jury is picked in a criminal case and jurors are filling the courtroom, it is important to realize and accept that most people do not automatically presume the person is innocent. When they set eyes on the person accused of a crime seated at the defense table, the jurors are usually wondering what the person did. They assume that something must have happened and are curious to know what the case is all about.
It is a critical job for the defense attorney to help the jury understand how the presumption of innocence works and that it is the prosecution’s job to present sufficient evidence against the accused. Finding a lawyer with the experience and ability to explain legal terms and concepts and use real life examples to illustrate how they work is critical to finding a successful trial attorney. The attorneys at Smith Blythe, PC are dedicated to using trial strategies that will help juries understand how the legal system is designed to protect the accused. This strength, along with the particularized focus on representing people accused of sex crimes, helps the attorneys at the Law Offices of Shannon M. Smith continue to be successful in Court.