Uncertain Justice: The Presumption of Innocence is Being Lost, Most Say
WASHINGTON / June 18, 2013 – A national opinion survey reveals a substantial majority of persons believes the presumption of innocence is fading from the American criminal justice system. Two-thirds – 67% — of persons participating in a recent survey affirmatively answered the question, “Do you believe the presumption of innocence is being lost in our nation’s legal system?”
The finding comes from a broader probe of Americans’ views of the criminal justice system and the role of prosecutors in the system. The survey is sponsored by the non-profit, non-partisan Center for Prosecutor Integrity.
Worries about the loss of the presumption of innocence are more pronounced among lower income than higher income persons (69% vs. 64%); and among persons 50 years and older compared to younger respondents (69% vs. 60%). Republicans and Democrats have nearly identical rates of concern: 72% vs. 71%, respectively: http://www.saveservices.org/prosecutors/findings/
Legal scholars have expressed concerns that buttress the survey findings:
– Brigham Young Law School professor Shima Baradaran deplored the fact that the “presumption of innocence no longer protects defendants before trial.”
– International legal scholar Francois Quintard-Morenas concluded, “The words ‘accused’ and ‘convict’ are becoming increasingly synonymous.”
– University of Vermont constitutional law professor Cheryl Hanna has written, “Evidentiary standards for proving abuse have been so relaxed that any man who stands accused is considered guilty.”
Many factors explain the loss of the presumption, including the over-criminalization of minor offenses, removal of “criminal intent” requirements, weak ethical standards for prosecutors, Supreme Court decisions, and media coverage that glorifies convictions over findings of innocence.
“The presumption of innocence is a bedrock principle of Anglo-American law,” notes CPI spokesperson Sheryle Hutter. “Now we must come to terms with the disturbing fact that our legal system has lost its standing as an international paragon of justice.”
The telephone interviews were conducted June 3-5, 2013. An average of 993 persons answered each of the survey questions. The sampling frame comes from voter registration records in 47 states; as such, the survey is not fully representative.
More information about the survey findings and methods can be seen here: http://www.saveservices.org/prosecutors/survey/
The Center for Prosecutor Integrity, a project of Stop Abusive and Violent Environments, is working to preserve the presumption of innocence, assure equal treatment under law, and bring an end to wrongful convictions: www.prosecutorintegrity.org