In the American criminal justice system, if you are charged with a crime, you are presumed innocent. Under the Fifth Amendment, you cannot “be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” That means you must go through the proper legal proceedings before being subject to any penalties. During these proceedings, the government (or a prosecutor working on the government’s behalf) must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. On the other hand, you do not have to prove that you are innocent. Instead, with the help of a defense attorney, you can present your evidence to weaken the prosecutor’s arguments. If you are successful, you could avoid or minimize criminal punishments.
What It Means to Be Presumed Innocent
In the United States, accused persons are presumed innocent until proven guilty. This means that even if you are alleged to have been involved in criminal activity, you cannot be punished unless or until the government proves that you committed the offense.
However, the presumption of innocence does not mean that you will remain free while your case is pending. You may be held in pre-trial detention unless you are bailed out of jail.
The presumption of innocence is a pillar of American criminal justice. It holds throughout your case and facilitates a fair trial.
The Prosecutor's Burden of Proof
In a criminal case, the prosecutor's burden is to prove the guilt of the accused beyond a reasonable doubt. Beyond a reasonable doubt is the highest standard of proof in the judicial system. It does not mean beyond all possible doubt but rather that no other plausible explanation can be derived from the evidence.
The prosecutor must prove every element of the alleged offense to obtain a guilty verdict.
For example, if you were accused of rape of an unconscious person, the prosecutor must show that:
- You had sex with someone,
- The individual was unconscious at the time of the act, and
- You knew that the person was unconscious and unable to resist.
What Happens If the Prosecutor Is Successful
If the prosecutor is successful in convincing the judge or jury that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, you will be convicted and face various penalties.
These can include:
- Jail or prison time,
- Victim restitution,
- Driver's license suspension, and
- Sex offender registration.
In addition, you may suffer collateral consequences that present hurdles when trying to re-enter society. These can include having a criminal record that is publicly available and will show up on background checks. This can make it hard to get a job or find a place to live. A conviction can have a significant impact on your life.
What the Defense Must Prove in a Criminal Case
Your defense lawyer does not have to prove your innocence in your case. The burden of proof remains on the prosecutor.
However, your criminal defense attorney can attempt to cast doubt in the minds of the judge or jury.
Your attorney can do so by:
- Presenting evidence,
- Cross-examining witnesses, and
- Offering alternative explanations for the prosecutor's assertions.
Your lawyer also protects your rights and remedies any injustices that have occurred. For example, your attorney may file a motion to suppress the evidence if there has been an unlawful search and seizure. The prosecutor's case may be weakened if the evidence is deemed inadmissible.
What Happens If the Defense Is Successful
If your defense attorney successfully casts doubt on the prosecution's case, the judge or jury has a duty to acquit. This means that you would not be convicted can could avoid any criminal penalties, including jail time. While there is no guarantee of success, a skilled defense attorney can often make a significant difference in the outcome of a criminal case.
Retain Legal Representation for Your Case
The presumption of innocence is a fundamental principle of law in the United States that helps facilitate fair trials in criminal cases. At Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP, we attend to the details in every matter we handle to protect our client's rights. If we spot injustices, we take immediate action to address them. Additionally, we develop strategic defenses and pursue favorable outcomes for our clients.
Speak with a member of our Los Angeles team by calling (800) 462-7160. You can also submit an online contact form, and we will respond promptly.