Short Take: Innocence Lost

In a quiet moment, the idea of taking a highly scientific poll on the twitters seemed like a good idea. So I did. This was the result:

Granted, the respondents were a select group, and there was no “all of the above” option because that wouldn’t have helped at all. Twitter polls are limited to four choices, so my fifth through 99th couldn’t be included. Maybe my poll wasn’t really all that scientific.

When let loose in the wild, there were a small group of Second Amendment enthusiasts who bitched at my failure to include their pet right in the mix. They had a point, as the right most at risk is often the right you care most about. That was their concern, and my failure to include it reflected my bias.

It’s true. Each of the choices included reflected my bias, something to remember when kvelling about empirical studies that are replete with hidden bias that serves to produce desired outcomes. One reason the top two answers were the top two answers is that they were two of the four possible answers. If I hadn’t included them, they couldn’t be answers at all, so I skewed the results from the start.

And yet, my quasi-scientific poll offers some illumination as to what is pressing on the select universe of twitterers who saw it and voted. Not only do people no longer subscribe to the principle that people are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, but they’re remarkably proud of their feelings.

We saw it here in the comments to posts addressing the presumption. It’s not just the mobs of #MeToo for whom no evidence beyond a teary-eyed accusation is needed to go out and destroy their enemies, but the smugness of certainty that a newspaper or online story about how someone is awful proves they’re awful. A press conference by a prosecutor is taken as indisputable gospel when one wants to believe.

But there’s more. It’s not just that we’ve succumbed to our base, visceral feelings about unproven guilt, but that smart people announce it in their stentorian voice as if it’s a matter of pride that they believe in the guilt of someone as yet unconvicted, for whom not an iota of evidence has been proffered. They demand their right to believe in other people’s guilt. They demand their right to announce their belief in other people’s guilt.

The presumption of innocence is not just a foundational tenet of our jurisprudence, mandated by reason (you can’t prove a negative) and policy (the burden is on the state). but a principle to which we used to aspire, hard as it was to get over our gut feelings that someone was, well, guilty.

Every time someone argues, as someone almost always does, that they are entitled to believe in guilt based on nothing more than what they read and their deep, abiding feelings, the answer is the same. Of course you’re allowed to believe. There’s no crime of premature believing in the first degree, and this being America, each of us is entitled to believe whatever the hell we want, no matter how wrong it may be.

But no one can force you to believe in someone’s guilt when you weren’t a witness to the event, aren’t emotionally tied to it by consanguinity and didn’t keep a keen eye on the evidence presented. You are entitled to be unprincipled, but that’s a choice you make.

Yet, as we’ve learned from death row exonerations where nearly everyone was absolutely certain that the accused was guilty, it’s not necessarily so. No, that doesn’t prove them innocent, but that’s not how our principles work. Once the presumption of innocence is gone, the rest of due process doesn’t really matter all that much.

24 thoughts on “Short Take: Innocence Lost

  1. Guitardave

    It’s become obvious to me that a lot of so called ’empathic’ people have never been wrongfully accused.

    1. SHG Post author

      Or even rightly accused but without proportionality such that burning at the stake isn’t the solution to every outrage.

  2. Jeff

    Every time someone claims that this is only a technical legal issue, that presumption of iinnocence isn’t applicable outside of a courtroom, I try to explain. Our laws, says I, are based on what we believe to be important as a society. It only stands so long as we choose to support it.

    It’s never that convincing. Whether it’s because we can’t see the long term impact, deny that slippery slope isn’t always a fallacy, or we’re just too fucking myopic to see that it won’t play out so well when it’s our own ass in the hot seat, it alway falls on deaf ears. Because the poor victims matter more. Never mind that the falsely accused are victims as well, but why don’t you care about the poor victims?

    I don’t have a solution, or an optimistic adage (darkest before the dawn, worse before it gets better, etc) because I don’t know that in the fast food sound bite information age, it will get better. We don’t think anymore because it’s hard.

    And I’m too busy over here crying my sad tears.

    1. SHG Post author

      Some people are so taken with their empathy toward the victim that it blinds them to the preliminary questions. Others just like making absolute decisions without the hard work of thinking. And this is America, so that’s their right.

  3. Black Bellamy

    Guns are clearly instruments of free speech and also cross-examination and are already covered by the poll.

            1. SHG Post author

              I realize they’re joking. I also realize that these jokes take on a life of their own with 20 more gun jokes, except it just clogs up my bandwidth and they’re just not all that funny to anyone else.

  4. Jake

    Go easy on the outrage of the unwashed, my friend. It was one of the animating forces behind the revolution that gave us the system we so cherish today.

    Rabble’s gonna rabble. The violation of the presumption of innocence occurs when cops, courts, or prosecutors go public with details surrounding an arrest or accusation. Aren’t they the proper locus for our ire?

    But muh 1a rights! Cries the prosecutor.

    1. SHG Post author

      Cops, courts and/or prosecutors deserve the blame they deserve, but then, that’s the nature of the beast. When the woke march up the hill to get you, that’s the nature of their beast, the one you loved, fed and cared for until it turned on you.

      1. Jake

        But which might we even hope to control? The rabble? Or court/law officers? Effectively gag the latter and the former will have one less thing to rabble about.

        1. SHG Post author

          Ah, the authoritarian expectation of controlling others rears its ugly head, Jake. But the rabble are far more dangerous, as they’re the stop gap for the courts and law enforcement. And even if that wasn’t true, it’s no excuse for the failings of the woke.

  5. MonitorsMost

    I don’t feel like the presumption of innocence getting short-shrift from society and our culture is new. Is this new?

    (I’ve got a feeling that Scott is going to shit on me for this comment but I can’t pinpoint why. Sorry in advance for not listening to my gut).

    1. SHG Post author

      Not at all. You’re entitled to disagree with the 52% of respondents, and in fact not see the issue at all that 52% of respondents not only see, but think to be most at risk.

      1. MonitorsMost

        “Least respected by legal process and societal norms” I’m 100% on board. People suck and presumption of innocence and beyond a reasonable doubt. But is there a good ole days of presumption of innocence to look back on? At-risk suggests to me that it is facing a new or unprecedented danger. Perhaps I’m being myopic.

          1. MonitorsMost

            I suppose you’re right. It doesn’t really matter if the boulder is getting heavier or not, it’s still our duty to keep pushing it up the hill.

  6. John Barleycorn

    I suspose there is no money in it for for CDL’s to get to excited about the distortion of 5th Amenddment?

    P.S. You and the Robed Rider get together and discuss that book you two are going to write yet or what? Better get on that before you twit yourself out.

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