Presumption of Innocence

CLP Current Event: October 9, 2018

Learn how organizations like the Innocence Project are ensuring the presumption of innocence is maintained in this week’s CLP Current Event.

Brought to teachers by Susie Marcus, CLP consultant, with CLP staff.

News Sources

Susan Collins is Wrong – Presumption of Innocence Applies Only in Criminal Trials, by John Banzhaf, ValueWalk, October 6, 2018
“That’s why the legal presumption of innocence is applicable only in criminal cases, and not in civil law suits, agency proceedings, applications for the bar or for security clearances, or even job interviews.”

What the Innocence Project can teach us about sexual assault, by Merrill Matthews, The Hill, October 3, 2018
“The organization boasts of 362 DNA exonerees to date, people who spent years, and in many cases decades, behind bars because they were convicted of a crime — murder, rape, assault, etc. — they did not commit.”
CLP: Opinion

Fellow Yale Student, Kavanaugh Contemporary: The Nominee Should Not Be Presumed Innocent, by Nina Pirrotti, Connecticut Law Tribune, October 3, 2018
“While I admire Flake’s courage in reversing course and recommending that sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh be investigated, as a former prosecutor, I take issue with his pronouncement that a job applicant, particularly one for a lifetime position to the highest court in our country, is entitled to a presumption of innocence. In fact, as a civil rights lawyer, I recommend turning this very precept on its head: it is the person who comes forward with allegations of sexual harassment and/or assault who should be afforded the presumption that she is telling the truth.”
CLP: Requires sign in to access full article; offers a perspective of presuming that an accuser is telling the truth.

Special Report: Groundbreaking, long-running DNA exoneration effort coming to an end, by Frank Green, Richmond Times-Dispatch, September 27, 2018
“The sample run morphed into Virginia’s Post-Conviction DNA Testing Program and Notification Project, which is set to finally wrap up in the next few months, an effort made possible by a body of biological evidence that should not have existed and that might have remained untested.”

Editorial: One way to stop sending innocent people to prison, by Sun-Times Editorial Staff, Chicago Sun-Times, September 27, 2018
“According to the Illinois Innocence Project, just 17 cases in which jailhouse informants played a role cost Illinois more than $88 million in compensation. In 2005, The Northwestern Law School’s Center on Wrongful Convictions reported false testimony from jailhouse informants was the leading contributor to exonerations in capital cases. Illinois abolished the death penalty in 2011.”

Schumer: “There’s No Presumption of Innocence” For Kavanaugh, by Ian Schwartz, Real Clear Politics, September 25, 2018
“There’s no presumption of innocence or guilt when you have a nominee before you. There is rather — rather, find the facts. Find the facts, and then let the Senate and let the American people make their judgment not whether the person’s guilty or innocent, but whether the person deserves to have the office for which he or see — she is chosen, plain and simple.”
CLP: Should there be different expectations for fact-finding versus legal proceedings?

Questions to Consider

  • What is the presumption of innocence? Why is it fundamental to our system of justice?
  • What does the word innocent mean? What is the difference between not guilty and innocent?
  • Does the presumption of innocence apply only to the courts?
  • Does one party have to be guilty if the other is innocent?
  • What scientific methods do we use to provide information about guilt and innocence?
  • Are minority status and economic power and geography considerations when we consider the presumption of innocence?
  • What role does the criminal justice system play in determining innocence and/or guilt?  What reforms of the criminal justice system might be helpful in achieving justice?
  • How are minors affected by the presumption of innocence? Are they protected or silenced?
  • How are the rights of the accused and the accuser balanced?
  • What role does the media play in the presumption of innocence?
  • Does the presumption of innocence relate to the Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination hearings?

Background and More

What is the presumption of innocence?, Brad Bailey Law, April 20, 2018
“A bedrock principle of the American criminal justice system is that a defendant accused of a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This protection comes from the due process guarantees in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.”

Wrongful Conviction, Forensic Science and DNA Evidence, by Amy Wallace, Griffith University, September 27, 2018

Attempted Murder Conviction Vacated in Nassau County After a Decade of Wrongful Incarceration, by Innocence Staff, Innocence Project, September 14, 2018

Innocence and Wrongful Convictions, Oregon Justice Resource Center

Lesson Plans

Criminal Law, Innocence LawInnocence Project Northwest
CLP: High School

Protecting the Accused, POV
CLP: Grades 6-12

Innocence Project Curriculum, Your Metro City
CLP: Provides lessons covering topics within three categories: Lives Taken, Life on the Inside, and Life on the Other Side. These were created by the Street Law Clinic at Georgetown University Law Center.

Constitutional and Legal Connections

Is the Presumption of Innocence in the Constitution?, LawInfo, December 12, 2017

International Center: The Laws of the United States, Wabash College

Coffin vs. United States – Case Brief Summary (U.S. Supreme Court), Lawpipe

Presumption of Innocence, IBJ Criminal Defense Wiki

Oregon Connections

Presumption of Innocence, Oregon Laws

Discovery of dog leads to case dismissed against Oregon man accused of sex abuse, by Associated Press, OregonLive, September 10, 2018

Oregon Innocence Project Announces First Exoneration, by Innocence Staff, Innocence Project, September 10, 2018

Oregon State Social Science Standards

8.8 Evaluate information from a variety of sources and perspectives.
8.14 Explain rights and responsibilities of citizens.
8.21 Analyze important political and ethical values such as freedom, democracy, equality, and justice embodied in documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
8.26 Examine a controversial event, issue, or problem from more than one perspective.
HS.33 Explain the role of government in various current events.
HS.35 Examine the pluralistic realities of society (e.g., race, poverty, gender and age), recognizing issues of equity, and evaluating need for change.
HS.59 Demonstrate the skills and dispositions needed to be a critical consumer of information.
HS.60. Analyze an event, issue, problem, or phenomenon from varied or opposing perspectives or points of view.

We the People Lesson Connections

Middle School, Level 2

  • Unit 5, Lesson 26: How does the Constitution safeguard the right to equal protection of the law?
  • Unit 5, Lesson 27: How does the Constitution protect the right to due process of law?
  • Unit 6, Lesson 29: What are the rights and responsibilities of citizenship?
  • Unit 6, Lesson 30: How might citizens participate in civic affairs?

High School, Level 3

  • Unit 5, Lesson 32: How do the Fifth, Sixth, and Eighth Amendments protect rights within the judicial system?
  • Unit 6, Lesson 33: What does it mean to be a citizen?
  • Unit 6, Lesson 34: What is the importance of civic engagement to American constitutional democracy?