Innocent Until Proven Guilty: The Kavanaugh-Ford Issue


A good man lies dead. A drunk man stands above his body with a pistol in his pocket and blood on his hands. The dead man is a much-beloved member of the community, a father of three. The man standing above him is a well-known drunk, a louse with a history of petty crime. What happens next?

This set-up is common in fiction. We all know the next line: a mob drags the drunk to a tree to string him up—until the wise and just lawman stops them and locks the drunk in jail, standing up to their calls to lynch him, insisting they wait for a trial. This is a common trope in fiction because it is all too easy to jump to conclusions about a situation before all the facts are known. It is even easier when the victim is sympathetic, or the supposed offender is disliked. The Kavanaugh incident is a perfect example of this. The accuser, Dr. Ford is a sympathetic person whom people want to believe. Many people jumped to conclusions about Justice Kavanaugh, a good portion influenced by their dislike of President Trump who nominated him. These ordinary people and the people on the committees in the senate who jumped to the same conclusions marred the face of justice. They broke one of the cardinal rules of our justice system, the thing upon which our whole system of justice is based. They broke the rule of innocent until proven guilty and the location of the burden of proof.

Before we expound on these concepts, let us define what justice actually is. For, as is common with a lot of words, we tend to use the term justice without knowing exactly what it means. Justice, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is “the maintenance or administration of what is just,” with just being defined as “faithful to an original.” A perfect example, and one of the oldest explanations of justice, is found in Deuteronomy 19:21: “And thine eye shall not pity; but life shall go for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” (KJV). This is the most basic form of justice. The offending party must return to the victim what they lost or, if offending party cannot do so, something is taken from him of equal value, whether that be money, time, labor, or life.

With this task comes a challenge. When we are dispensing justice, we must be certain we are punishing to equality. We wouldn’t want to execute a jaywalker or fine a murderer: we want the justice to equal the crime. Thus, it is the task of justice to ensure that the punishment equals the crime. This requires examining the evidence to get proof of the extent of the crime. With this comes a question: what is the standard for evidence? Our system of justice is based on the presumption of innocence, the assumption that the defendant is innocent of the crime he is accused of until and unless he is proven guilty. This concept is a hallmark of western civilization. Innocent until proven guilty is first found explicitly identified in Roman law, in the reforms made by the Emperor Antonius Pius during the second century, stated as, "Proof lies on him who asserts, not on him who denies." Before that, it was quite common for the burden of proof to be upon the accused, meaning that he had to prove that he was innocent.

This concept of burden of proof is a very important one. It means that one side is given the benefit of the doubt and the other has to prove their case. What this means is that in a system where innocence is presumed, the prosecution must prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the defendant is guilty. This holds true in the reverse. If the burden of proof is on the defendant, he must prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that he is innocent. In this system, if there is even the shadow of a possibility that he is guilty, he must be found guilty. This is a very dangerous road to take. Thus, the burden of proving guilt is on the accusing party, and if that cannot be done, while it doesn’t mean the defendant is innocent, it means that justice cannot be exacted given the information that is available.

This is a mighty task. It is difficult and time-consuming. Most people don’t have the time to dedicate to all that goes into this. This creates a requirement for us, the people who aren’t involved in the decisions. Our place outside of the justice system means that we need to be careful passing judgement. We need to give the benefit of the doubt to the accused, and wait until the facts are in to make up our minds. In the Kavanaugh accusations, whether or not the accusations are correct, people passed judgement, either deciding that he was guilty, or that he was in fact innocent, all without any of the evidence having been examined by an impartial eye. This was a mar on the face of justice.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not claim to reflect the opinions or views of the Defendant or its staff members.

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