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Innocent until proven guilty or court of public opinion


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Some posts in the Bill Cosby thread got me wondering...

 

Our legal system says you are innocent until proven guilty, and that the burden of proof lays on the accuser.

 

The court of public opinion can try and punish people in terms of getting fired, getting blacklisted, or otherwise hated by society.

 

Some people hang on to innocent until proven guilty, no matter what comes out and how horrible it sounds. Others are willing to judge based on rumors.

 

Where do you all fall?

 

OJ was proven innocent, but I'm pretty sure he killed Nicole Brown. Also pretty sure that MJ diddled kids or at the very least was very inappropriate with them. People get away with murder all the time (cops). If the legal system fails to prove somebody guilty should that be golden?

 

 

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I guess I'd lean towards the official "innocent until proven guilty" idea behind the official legal system. It's certainly no panacea, however. The guilty go free and the innocent get punished, at least on occasion. Doubtless the ugly side of human nature can skew proceedings in a court room - prejudices of various kinds, to say nothing of the influence of money in the retention of the best legal counsel. Still and all, I think it preferable to the torch-and-pitchfork potentialities of "the court of public opinion."

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I'm no fan of public-opinion court. Even when I hypocritically pitch in on rare occasion, I keep it brief and let it go once the rest of the world starts rage-spiraling. But I also believe that courts aren't in business to determine capital-T Truth, either.

 

"I refuse to believe it unless a judge or jury says it's so!" is a passive, spineless mindset that's no more logical than "Someone said it on Twitter so it must be true!" Courts may be more reliable, but blind faith in them isn't justified.

 

This is why I normally keep my mouth shut during most internet political fights. More often than not, both sides suck.

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I don't have too many thoughts (at the moment, at least) about the complete issue at hand since I am not a legal expert nor would I ever claim to be, but I wanted to clarify something: finding somebody to be not guilty is a very different conclusion from proving somebody to be innocent. The former is what our court system primarily does and the latter is not. I am going to state things as simply as I can using ideas that I know everyone is familliar with, but I kind of need to to stress my points as best as I can.

 

The presumption of non guilt is what is used as the basis of fact for the trial since, logically, the defendant needs to be either presumed non-guilty or guilty, in order for any proceedings to occur. The presumption of innocence requires the prosecution to provide evidence that, if the defendant were not guilty, would be so incredibly unlikely to occur that it leads a jury/judge to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is actually guilty.

 

If we didn't start with this assumption and started with the presumption of guilt, then the defense would be required to present evidence that, if the defendant were in fact guilty, would be so incredibly unlikely to occur that it leads a jury/judge to conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is actually innocent. This, of course, is typically much more difficult to do since the absence of evidence is not the same as evidence of absence.

 

In both cases, though, it is important to make the distinction that you cannot prove what you start out assuming so in order to "prove" innocence (beyond a reasonable doubt), you would have to start with the assumption of guilt. I use quotation marks above because proof, to me, requires absolute logical certainty, as is encountered in mathemematical theory. That notion of proof is very different from the logical process that the court uses, which is to place to contradictory conclusions against each other, assume one is true, and to try to provide sufficient contradictory evidence (whatever that actually means) to reject that the assumed claim is actually true. It is the rejection of the assumed claim that then suggests that the contradictory claim is therefore reasonably likely to be correct.

 

As such, OJ was not proven innocent, but merely found not guilty because according to the jury, there was not sufficient evidence to reject the assumed claim. That particular case may not be the best to go with when thinking about the foundations of the legal system of due to the circus surrounding it, though. Of course, the intricacies of the legal system are far more complicated than this and are probably where any real problems with it may lie, but the main issue to me surrounds the notion of what amount of evidence is enough to lead to a rejection of non-guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

 

If our notion of sufficiency is too lax, then we become more likely to incorrectly reach the conclusion of guilt when there is none, leading to us punishing the innocent. However, if we require the definition of sufficiency to be far more strict, then it becomes far more likely that we make the other type of incorrect conclusion: failing to reject non-guilt when the defendant is guilty. It's this balancing act of trying to minimize the chances of making both kinds of errors that is the difficult part (to me, at least) and is where I would imagine the opinions of many people to differ because of the following question.

 

Which is more important to avoid: imprisoning an innocent person or letting a guilty person go free?

 

I know this is kind of sidestepping things a bit, but I think this last question is a different way of looking at what Seth brought up.

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Guest El Chalupacabra

Some posts in the Bill Cosby thread got me wondering...

 

Our legal system says you are innocent until proven guilty, and that the burden of proof lays on the accuser.

 

The court of public opinion can try and punish people in terms of getting fired, getting blacklisted, or otherwise hated by society.

 

Some people hang on to innocent until proven guilty, no matter what comes out and how horrible it sounds. Others are willing to judge based on rumors.

 

Where do you all fall?

 

OJ was proven innocent, but I'm pretty sure he killed Nicole Brown. Also pretty sure that MJ diddled kids or at the very least was very inappropriate with them. People get away with murder all the time (cops). If the legal system fails to prove somebody guilty should that be golden?

 

 

There's a difference between a case where the person wasn't tried at all, and where a person was tried, and you just don't agree with the outcome. OJ was not proven innocent in the criminal court, just found not guilty by the jury. The whole trial was on display for the world, literally. We got to see most, if not all the evidence presented. So, even though he was found not guilty, it is a reasonable conclusion for someone who followed the trial to believe OJ was guilty.

 

OJ WAS in fact found guilty in civil court, and later convicted of strong arm robbery in an unrelated case. Also, he attempted to evade paying his retribution to the family of Ron Goldman and Nicole Simpson. So those findings, and subsequent actions taken by OJ lends credibility of people thinking he did murder those two people.

 

As for MJ, he was never indicted, let alone convicted. All I can say on that is my opinion, which is he probably did inappropriate things with children. Now what that was specifically, the only people who know for sure, are those who were there. That could range from just doing what MJ admitted to, which was sleep in a bed full of children without anything sexual going on, to child rape. But what I, and I suspect many thought never really mattered because it didn't affect his career too much. People still bought his music and paid to see him in concert and he still lived like a king.

 

As Bill Cosby, here is the thing: we live in a society of laws. The COURTS are where it is decided that someone is guilty of criminal wrongdoing. Sometimes courts and law enforcement fail. It is unfortunate. But I don't think that was the case. Law enforcement and the courts weren't even used. When you have adult women who failed to come forward until it was too late when something actually could have been done, what can be done? It really is just one person's word, or in Cosby's case, multiple women who failed to act until years later where they go public and either demand compensation from Cosby, or let's be real, the reporting network they give the exclusive interview, VS Cosby, sorry, until there is proof, I have to say I remain skeptical. Part of the reason for the laws we live under is to prevent a repeat of what happened in Salem in the 1690s. Simply accusing someone of wrongdoing is not enough.

 

MJs alleged victims were children, and had to rely on their guardians to fight for them. The problem was those kid's parents accepted payoffs. And let's be real, California isn't known for upstanding,incorruptible law enforcement, either. And, of course, we have MJ's own words saying he did in fact sleep with children, just not in a sexual way. I think it is a fair thing to say the legal system did in fact fail those children, with regard to MJ.

 

However, with Cosby, it is different, at least it is for me. No one has ever offered any proof. The only thing that has been offered are accusations. Now, I don't deny that there are some of the women offering similar accounts, and by virtue of the fact that there are multiple women saying the same thing, there MIGHT be something to the story. But that said, I think unlike MJ and OJ, we don't have either a) a conviction, or b) the accused admitting to at least part of what they were accused of. Also, it is very possible that the later accusers are matching their stories with earlier accusers, and given the fact to my knowledge that NONE of them tried to bring up criminal charges when Cosby could have been charged (even if they had failed in the attempt), and instead sat on their stories until they could either sue Cosby, attempt to sue in hopes of a pay out, or simply get paid by the press for their story, really makes me question these womens' motives. I'm not saying nothing happened, but I am saying unlike OJ and MJ, I have reasonable doubt.

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Sometimes the law fails. 150 years ago you could deal with it yourself, like Frank Eaton:

His father was killed by Confederate Raiders, an old man put a curse on him until he avenged his father's death, he shot all his father's killers.

 

My alma mater made this guy into our mascot. If someone did that today, they'd be called a psycho, but hey....justice was served.

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Some posts in the Bill Cosby thread got me wondering...

 

Our legal system says you are innocent until proven guilty, and that the burden of proof lays on the accuser.

 

The court of public opinion can try and punish people in terms of getting fired, getting blacklisted, or otherwise hated by society.

 

Some people hang on to innocent until proven guilty, no matter what comes out and how horrible it sounds. Others are willing to judge based on rumors.

 

Where do you all fall?

 

OJ was proven innocent, but I'm pretty sure he killed Nicole Brown. Also pretty sure that MJ diddled kids or at the very least was very inappropriate with them. People get away with murder all the time (cops). If the legal system fails to prove somebody guilty should that be golden?

 

 

One nit to pick: OJ was found not guilty- not "innocent". Big difference in theory. We had Vincent Bugliosi as an on-air guest at the station I worked for shortly after the OJ verdict and I asked him these questions. He was the one to point out innocent vs. not guilty.

 

His take was that the court of law and the court of public opinion are different and operate under different burdens of proof.

 

Public/individual opinion will always be what it is and nothing will change it. Proof of wrongdoing under the law is and should be a lot more difficult to obtain.

 

You'd have to ask me on each to get my answers.

 

I think OJ, MJ and Cosby were all guilty of things they were accused of.

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Tank

 

There have been some very good posts on this already, but I'll add the attorney's perspective. I don't have a lot of criminal experience, but I have a little.

 

The presumption against guilt is one of the most important concepts in the law, and in fact, society. Contrary to the flavor-of-the-week topics that enrage the identity politics trolls on Gawker and Jezebel or what have you, this concept is one that actually, everyday, helps the underprivileged and disadvantaged, perhaps more than anything else in their lives. The US has many issues, including in its criminal justice system, and I won't claim it's perfect, but the presumption against guilt is one of the greatest features of our country and is a true hallmark of a civilized society. I would go so far as to call it a noble concept.

 

Now, of course, it may very well be the case that OJ, or MJ, or Casey Anthony (or insert example here) was actually guilty. I don't know. I didn't sit on any of these juries, I didn't review the evidence to the scrutiny they did, I didn't listen to the testimony live and view the witnesses' reactions in person. Who knows. But what we do know is that at least on that day, the state failed to convince a jury of guilt. It is what it is, and the state doesn't get another bite at the apple (otherwise we trigger another great evil- double jeopardy, the violation of which would lead to people being tried for likely their entire lives).

 

So maybe they got off, maybe they didn't- only the accused will ever know for sure. But what I can say is that even if they got off, it's a small price to pay for the protections it offers society. Not everyone gets a highly publicized trial where every angle is dissected by wannabe-lawyers on CNN. Every day, thousands of people get charged and tried with random misdemeanors and felonies that no one is ever going to give a sh-t about. But I'll tell you who does care- the single mother (with no father present), living under the poverty line that has two kids, who got connected with her baby-daddy's pot selling and is now facing a drug conspiracy charge after a sh-tty, half assed police investigation where the lead detective phoned it in to clear off his case load. I'll bet you that person cares about this presumption, which is really the only thing that will her give a fair shot at a trial, the only thing between her and jail, between her kids being raised as wards of the state or not.

 

Right now, the incentives are lined up so as to prevent the least amount of injustice as possible. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but the incentives are at least set up so as to not encourage it. If you're a prosecutor now, what are you concerned about? Probably not that single mother, or justice or whatever, but you are certainly concerned about your career. And your career is more or less contingent on getting successful convictions. Knowing that it is the state's burden to prove the case, a prosecutor is thus only going to go through the trouble of trying a case that they'll actually win (unless of course, they're forced to try something for political reasons or whatever). I've talked to lots of prosecutors, and you'll find they're always talking about whether their cases will "play to a jury" or not. And it makes sense- if you have X amount of hours to spend on working cases, you're not going to waste X on cases that you know are losers. Those cases may still get charged, but they're often also ones the prosecutors are eager to work out deals on and get off their desk ASAP. Defense attorneys can take advantage of this- good ones will be able to sniff out when the prosecutor's case is bullsh-t. They know they can beat 'em in front of a jury and so cut their client an advantageous deal where everyone wins: the DA gets the sh-t case gone without having to actually try it, the defense attorney gets $$ and another notch in the belt to put on his TV ads, and the accused gets a misdemeanor and 6 months (instead of a felony and 10 years).

 

But imagine a world in which the presumption was flipped and you presumed someone was guilty. Well now it wouldn't be the state that had to prove the accused's guilt, but the accused would have to prove the state never should have arrested them and they are innocent. Consider how this would distort the incentives of the prosecutor. He still has his one self-interested motivation (career progression), but imagine where he now knows every case he has starts with the presumption that the accused was guilty. The prosecutor now has no incentive to not charge, in fact, what would happen is the prosecutor would charge as many cases as possible, no matter how sh-tty the police investigation was. In the real world, the state has the burden of constructing the case- detectives have to collect evidence, find witnesses, get a grand jury indictment, and so on. But imagine if the accused had to do this- if they had to prove they were innocent, if they had to go find witnesses and convince them to testify, go around and collect evidence, basically hire their own detectives to run an investigation to clear their name. Perhaps OJ can afford that, but I bet that single mother can't.

 

And that brings up a final point- right now, perhaps the only incentive the police have in conducting an air-tight case is knowing that the state has that burden to prove the case, and if a policeman royally f-cks it up, well then- they're the fall-guy that the police chief throws under the bus when some notorious gangster is back on the streets in a few months, and the mayor needs someone to pin it on so he doesn't look weak on crime. But imagine if they knew that anyone they arrested would be presumed to be guilty, and that in most cases, that person would be underprivileged, no ability to afford an investigation to clear themselves, no ability to pay for any legal advice, and would basically be dependent on the state appointed defense attorney who is overworked, underpaid, and is trying to defend 1000 other clients. Well, in that world, the policeman's incentives change- now they have an incentive to basically arrest as many people as possible, knowing a vast majority of them won't be able to provide any evidence they're innocent. The policeman can just write damn well whatever he wants in the arrest report, because hey, the state is presumed to be right and doesn't have to prove sh-t.. just the arrest alone is now conclusive evidence that the guy "did it."

 

You can see how this would quickly lead to tyranny- a world in which police chiefs and district attorneys would become these mini-kings where they dictated the law and essentially decided who goes to jail and who doesn't.

 

I'd rather have Casey Anthony free than that world.

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Another thing I'll add is that the "court of public opinion" is predisposed to irrationality. Something terrible has happened, outrage is a natural response and a commendable one at that. God help us on the day allegations of gang rapes fail to incense us. But from there things get dicey - mob mentality takes hold quickly and easily and it becomes less important to get the guilty party than it does to simply find someone, anyone guilty and sate the righteous thirst for justice. That's how the Salem witch hunts happened. Eventually, this can dull the public's desire for justice even in bona fide cases due to a "boy who cried wolf" effect.

 

Public outrage at terrible crimes is a good thing in that it shows us that we are not emotionally numb. We should be outraged when we hear of terrible offenses. All too often, however, this outrage becomes a TERRIBLE way of actually seeking justice. Trust me on this one: witch hunts are not pretty.

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CM knocked that one out of the park.

 

The citizens of this country have gotten themselves into a position of ignorance about the legal system. And that ignorance is dangerous.

 

* The prosecutor does not represent the victim or the victim's family. The prosecutor represents the state. The state has determined that certain offenses are not beneficial to society and the prosecutor is there to bring charges against the person whom he believes there is enough evidence to convict for offenses against the state.

 

* Everyone has the right to a defense. A defense attorney does not have to like his client or believe in his innocence/guilt. But he must defend his client to the best of his ability.

 

* Juries must listen to evidence, not TV pundits or their own emotions. No one in this country would want to be convicted of a crime because a jury "just knew" that person was guilty or because the crime was so horrific that "someone had to pay".

 

This means sometimes guilty people will go free.

 

[runs quickly out of the Lyceum]

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I strongly support the concept that it should be hard for the state to punish someone. It's why I think cops should be held to extremely high standards in shootings, because they are the state.

 

However, I am equally repulsed by the idea that I should rely solely on the state for my opinions.

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