The Presumption of Innocence

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If I own a cookie store, and you come to my store for a job interview, and I see you stealing cookies, I will not hire you. To me, you are a crook, and I will act on that belief, and I can do that. But, if I turn you into the cops, and you enter the criminal justice system, you have a presumption of innocence, which applies to what happens to you in that system. At no point does the presumption of innocence that is part of our criminal justice system seep out into my cookie business. I caught you with your hand in the cookie jar, and you still can’t have that job.

This rule of justice comes down from the Romans, Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat, and it is widespread, though not universal in legal systems. But it does not apply to my cookie shop.

The presumption of innocence is not a logical requirement or even guideline for how humans think. It is, rather, the baseline from which the process of proving guilt begins in many of our legal systems. “Presumed innocent until proven guilty” (a phrase coined by William Garrow) refers to a stage in the legal process of acquiring or convicting someone. It is not the logical starting point for deciding, as a human being, if another human being did something wrong.

I do think something like presuming innocence is a good thing to do, and I tend to do it. But when as citizens we do that of each other, or of people in the news, or others, we are not engaging in the legal principle of Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat. We’re just trying not to be dicks all the time.

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25 thoughts on “The Presumption of Innocence

  1. Of course it’s the starting point. If you say X is a thief, I might believe you because I know you, and your minute amount of evidence will be good enough. But I still wanted some evidence and don’t just believe blindly.
    A courtroom removes that bias somewhat with independent juries, though the qualifications of the witnesses will add credibility.

    1. Yeah and .. ??? Relevance?

      I think you may have missed the whole point of the post here.

      Again, this is a job application NOT a trial for attempted rape.

      In an actual legal criminal trial then Kavanagh gets his presumption of innocence.

      In an application for a job on the highest court in the USA being credibly accused of multiple sexual assaults, attempted rape and durn near actually almost killing one of your victims should certainly disqualify you for getting that job. Oh and also lying under oath to Congress as Kavanaugh very clearly did about the extent of his alcoholism in his binge drinking years should additionally rule him out of being any sort of Judge let alone one at the most important high ranking level.

      Oh also, there’s been evidence and its been very credibly put by multiple people starting foremost with Christine Blasey Ford who unlike , Kavanugh answered directly and clearly and straightforwardly and unlike Kavanaugh hasn’t been proven to be a liar like he subsequently has been.

      Personally, I’d be very happy if Kavanaugh was actually criminally charged and booted from his present job but I’d settle for him not being on SCOTUS and being exposed for what he did in his past.

    2. Apologies for the bolding error there. Intended only the Job application bit in bold. Sorry and please fix if possible.

  2. At no point does the presumption of innocence that is part of our criminal justice system seep out into my cookie business.

    True. It is also true that, outside of the court, if you do give a person the assumption of innocence that does not mean the same thing as saying the accuser(s) is (are) lying.

  3. Ford testified that Kavanaugh’s attack affected her in so many ways, leading her to nearly flunk out of college.
    However, this trauma did not affect her academic performance in high school.

    Washington Post story said that partial therapist notes provided by Ford said the attack was in her late teens in the mid 80s, which would line up with her academic difficulties.

    1. Have you been to high school or college? The stress for later year high shcoolers can be great, but depending on the school and the student, it can also be minimal. Senior year is often a breeze. Meanwhile, colleges is always stressful in the beginning.

      I could easily see a woman experiencing this sort of trauma as a junior, and the effect hitting grades, etc. in Senior College. In fact, I can cite at least one example of that, a sexual assault on a high schooler that didn’t have that much effect on the student in that year, in a private school, but hammered her in college.

    2. Greg:

      Totally possible no problems with the rest of her high school, academically. But if she had any personality changes, they would have shown up right away – not skipped two years to only manifest in college.

      It is just one more inconsistency.

  4. But if she had any personality changes, they would have shown up right away – not skipped two years to only manifest in college.

    It is just one more inconsistency.

    Not at all. There is no more reason to believe your assessment here than there is to believe anything you say — you’ve spewed enough bald faced crap that you’ve lost the benefit of the doubt.

    The fact that you made up your mind on this issue before hearing any facts, and dismiss sexual assault as no more than a child’s game, also means you won’t get taken seriously.

    1. If you don’t take me seriously, you shouldn’t reply to me.

      I will admit I am biased – will you?

      When a 36 year allegation shows up days before a confirmation vote, the allegation loses a lot of credibility. Especially when it is a naked allegation without any corroboration for 30 years, and which Ford will not produce (but allows the newspaper to review), and when her witnesses deny any recollection of her account.

      I also don’t dismiss sexual assault as no more than a child’s game. I merely point out that the term has been so watered down that it now applies to a child’s game. But your bias will not allow you to see that.

      I am afraid your views have no more credence to me than mine do to you.

      Fortunately, I do get to vote.

      I am not sure if you get to vote or not (being a brit).

      So maybe we cancel each other out – or maybe you views don’t count at all.

    2. You are not only biased, you have a history of dishonesty and you have compared sexual assault to a child’s game.

      Both of those disqualify you from being taken seriously on this issue or on anything else.

      “The term has been so watered down that it now applies to a child’s game.”

      No, it hasn’t, and it doesn’t, but thanks again for clearly demonstrating what a disgusting person you are and how little seriousness you place on assault.

    3. I concur that RickA assessment is based on faulty presumptions.

      But if she had any personality changes, they would have shown up right away – not skipped two years to only manifest in college.

      Memories and personalities change don’t work like this.
      Sometimes it takes time for things to distill down. Sometimes outside events trigger memories and start a thought process anew. And sometimes people just hide and deny what’s going under until they can not fake “normalcy” anymore. If you knew anyone with depression, you would know.

      I’m plagued with bits of crystal-clear memories of embarrassing events in my life surfacing now and then. Just the event itself, with some vague, but imprecise idea about the location and time. Some events are from about 40 years ago. It doesn’t last, but it sure derails my chain of thoughts. And sometimes, it’s the start of a depression. When it’s the case, I’m no good for anything for a day or two.
      Also, just a few months ago, a song made me think of a former girlfriend, and the lyrics made some things suddenly came into perspective. I suddenly understood much better why she decided to call it quit. It certainly affected my behavior for a few days. We broke amiably apart about five years ago.

  5. What’s the biggest impact on Christine Ford that she most remembers?

    That Kavanaugh and Judge were laughing at her. ‘Indelible in the hippocampus’
    At another point, “what terrified me the most and has had the most lasting impact on my life.” was Brett putting his hand over her mouth.

    1. Yes. They were laughing at her whilst Brett Kavanaugh had his hand over her mouth and she thought he might accidentally kill her during his rape* of her. These things are not mutually incompatible nor is the most terrifying thing necessarily the same thing that the the one that has the biggest impact.

      So, your point here is ______?

      * A rape that wouldn’t be completely because the Judge was sober as a drunkard in vat of beer – at that point Christine Blasey Ford wouldn’t know that she wouldn’t be imminently physically penetrated during this rape and therefore that it would only be an attempted rape nor that she would actually survive to tell the tale later and continue her life.

    2. That’s a rape that wouldn’t be completed not “completely” natch & apologies.

      Please feel free to edit and fix and delete accordingly Greg Laden.

      Mea culpa.

      Kavanaugh is lucky he didn’t complete the rape or end up as a murderer. He could well have been saved from being convicted as both a rapist and a killer back then had things gone a bit differently. It wasn’t his judgement that stopped him being either and he certainly lacks the character, intelligence and decency to be a judge at all let alone one on the Highest Court in the land.

  6. Kavanaugh and Judge were laughing at her when Brett put his hand over her mouth. That hardly disqualifies her testimony. Both statements are true. At that moment, she was dehumanized, humiliated, and in fear for her life. That sort of thing damages ones relation with the rest of the human race, and it affects one in, potentially, a perponderance of future interactions with people.

    To those of you who are stupidly looking for ways to pick this woman apart, all based on the assumption that your nominee, Judge Booffffer, is a fucking choir boy, and that Dr. Ford is some sort of sociopath, I say, I think that you have it all backwards. Kavanaugh is thug, he is a foot soldier for conservate elitism. He has no fucking wisdom. He is a drunk. And he is an absolutely terrible role model for young people today. But hey, if that’s who you guys want for a Supreme Court justice, it looks like that is who you are going to get. You are going to get Justice Brett Albatross Booffffer, a Renate Alumius, and a general all around creep. But he is conservative, so in your twisted value system he is a saint. We get it. You are blinded by your political religion. We get it. You are going to protect your this SC Justice Larva no matter what. God you are pathetic.

    1. I have been bullied and endlessly mocked in school. And beaten up a few times. Life got better once I learned judo.

      I still have vivid memories of the events. Most notably the sense of helplessness and un-worthiness.
      Oh, yeah, and the mockery.

      So yeah. Fully in agreement with you SteveP, on all points.

  7. Stupidity _ conspiracy ideation _ global warming denial _ misogyny _ Trump worship

    There’s such a strong link between all of those characteristics. What’s the most likely psychological explanation for it?

    Had a look for definitions of “boofing”. Quite a few references to sticking drugs up your butt and anal sex and only one said something about farting. In the context of what Kavanaugh and his mate were saying to each other, “have you boofed yet?”, farting makes no sense at all. Why would you put “Judge _ have you boofed yet?” in a year book? Is that the first time they had farted? A rite of passage? The explanation is obviously a lie.

    Looked up “Devil’s triangle” and the top response in the Urban Dictionary is an entry describing a threesome _ sex between two men and a woman. This was posted in 2008. The only entries making reference to a card game were recent ones mocking Kavanaugh. So it looks like that explanation is another lie.

    The “Renate alumnus” reference was described as some term of endearment because she was one of the boys, or something to that effect. When the Renate was contacted and told about the entry she said she was deeply hurt. She knew what it meant and it wasn’t a term of affection. The NYT had this quote from one of his classmates: ““They were very disrespectful, at least verbally, with Renate,” said Sean Hagan, a Georgetown Prep student at the time. “I can’t express how disgusted I am with them, then and now.”

    What a sleazy, lying, dishonest piece of shit. I saw some of his testimony and watching the evasiveness, the obvious lies, the unwillingness to respond directly to questions, the drama queen act and show of contrived indignation, the overt political partisanship and I thought, faarrk…this is not someone I would trust to judge a dog show, let alone sit on the supreme court.

    1. As far as “boofing”goes I have a vague recollection / impression of it being simply another slang term for sexual intercourse along the lines of “porking” or “rooting” but I could be mistaken. Also Aussie not American background but still FWIW. Farting -nope! But “trump” is slang for fart in the UK and apt here – one to be adopted perhaps esp. for a very messy loud and disgusting one akin to a shart if not worse?

  8. Excellent commentary and spot on point there. Agreed 100% Greg Laden.

    Also its not much of an investigation if it isn’t really interviewing the people directly involved – or the witnesses and others (e.g. Mark Judge) so I don’t think the FBI has done its job well here personally and, also a key point, its been her life – Christine Blasey Ford’s that’s been wrecked and slandered here, certainly far more than his. Kavanaugh’s life is nowhere near ruined if he doesn’t sit on the SCOTUS and the damage to his reputation was inflicted by himsefl as his own bad choice.

  9. The Left used to be about declaring the obviously guilty innocent. Sacco&Vanzetti, Rosenbergs, Alger Hiss, Mumia.
    Now they are about declaring the obviously innocent guilty.

    1. Unless you provide some sort of intelligent analysis with those assertions, your opinion is totally worthless. Why are they obviously guilty and why is he obviously innocent?

    2. “Obviously innocent” Kavanaugh? Sod off!

      Did you not watch or hear Christine Balsey Ford’s testimony or his other victims? Or Kavanaugh’s unconvincing, defensive, subject changing snarling conspiracy theory puking perjuring response to their credible and convincing accounts? Or the fact that BK’s classmates then refuted his already clearly absurd lies about his drinking and the meaning of slang terms etc ..

      Have you been hiding under a rock these past months?

      Thinking of the past btw; you know the Right has often declared the “obviously guilty innocent” often too starting with Trump and Roy Moore’s sexual assaults and continuing back to Dubya and the WMDs that weren’t there in Iraq and Ollie North Iran-Contra in Reagun days and Senator Joe McCarthy’s vicious life-destroying slanders and lies, ad nauseam, yeah?

    3. @ JP, StevoR

      “Obviously innocent” Kavanaugh? Sod off!

      Forget it, MikeN is spiraling down in full Trump mode.
      On the other thread, he flat-out said that Dr Ford is a crisis actor paid to smear Trump’s pick , whoever he was going to be.
      Never mind that Dr Ford told about Kavanaugh to her husband, her therapist and a few others, something like 6 years ago. Or was able to name the usual partners-in-party of Kavanaugh. Or was dating one of Kavanaugh classmate (I hesitate to say ‘friend’).

      For those interested in keeping a summary of the “she said, he said” situation, there is this handy article. The title gives a hint of their conclusion.

  10. Does the presumption of innocence apply to sitting justices?

    If a woman were to come forward and accuse Justice Breyer of sexually assaulting her in high school should Breyer be removed from the court even if no corroborating evidence can be found?

    1. Locus:

      Yes, of course it does.

      To remove a sitting Justice would require first impeachment in the House, and then a trial in the Senate. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court preceding, with the Senate acting as the jury (if President being impeached, not clear who precedes otherwise).

      There is no rule or law on what the standard of proof is during impeachment trials, so each Senator is free to decide for themselves what the standard is.

      Some will use reasonable doubt, while some will use preponderance of the evidence. I suppose some could even put the burden on the person being tried, although I would imagine they would never say that out loud (how embarrassing).

      The key is that 2/3’s of the Senate have to vote to convict, so it is a very high burden.

      Personally, I cannot imagine even 50% voting to convict with a naked allegation with no corroboration.

      This is why I cannot imagine Kavanaugh being convicted in the Senate, given the state of the evidence (zero – just a naked assertion).

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