The presumption of innocence is very widely known and it’s considered to be one of your basic rights if you’re ever accused of a crime. But is it actually in the U.S. Constitution?
Technically speaking, it’s not. The Constitution does not mention this right by name. Instead, the general principle was simply taken from English common law. It has since been backed up firmly in numerous cases, by many accounts starting with Coffin vs. the United States in 1895.
That being said, the Fifth Amendment and the 14th Amendment both speak to the “due process” that is intended to be carried out. It is a Constitutional right to be allowed this due process, and it is understood that your right to be presumed innocent is a “fundamental element” of this process. In that sense, it is a Constitutional right, even if it is not directly addressed.
For those accused of crimes under U.S. law, this principle means that the burden of proof is on the other party to show that the accused is actually guilty. People sometimes assume that you go to court to prove that you’re innocent, but this isn’t the case. You have no obligation to do so. The court must start off with the belief that you’re already innocent, and this is only to change if guilt is then established to a degree that goes beyond reasonable doubt. You don’t have to prove anything if the court can’t reach this distinction.
It’s critical to know what you are and are not obligated to do in court, what legal rights you have, and how the due process of law is intended to work. Never let any assumptions about the legal system cloud your thinking, and remember that you have intrinsic rights no matter what accusations you face.
An arrest and conviction can change everything. Fines or time in jail are the immediate concern, but a conviction will also mean a criminal record that can make it harder to find a job and housing for years to come. If you are arrested or learn you are under investigation, the first thing you should do is contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. You can search LawInfo’s legal directory to find a local criminal defense attorney who can protect your rights and help you determine the best way to proceed with mounting a defense.