The Vapid New Standard of “Credibly Accused”

The complaint stated that Officer Smith observed the defendant hand a vial to another person on the corner of South Street and 107th. The defendant has been “credibly accused.” So what? No rational person would argue that the defendant should now be presumed guilty, or that he might as well be detained as he’s obviously guilty. Why bother to try him? After all, he’s been credibly accused.

Of course, if Officer Smith wasn’t on duty that day, and was, in fact, on vacation in the Bahamas, sunning himself on the beach and drinking a fruity beverage with a tiny umbrella jutting out of the cup, then the accusation would be incredible. Or if the defendant was the one on the beach instead. It could happen.

If that was proven, the defendant would be incredibly accused. An incredible accusation would be dismissed out of hand, but a credible accusation might give rise to further inquiry.  What it would not do, never do, is suffice for any greater purpose.

Yet, the phrase “credibly accused” has worked its way into the lexicon as if it’s a meaningful standard upon which it’s fair to believe, even if the “technical” presumption of innocence is muttered of necessity, that guilt is established. It’s not only a lie, there being no legally cognizable standard of “credibly accused,” but it’s subverted people’s grasp and willingness to place the burden of proof where it must be.

And people who are inclined to believe guilt when it suits them are thrilled by having a phrase to justify their assumption, even though it means nothing more than an accusation that isn’t so incredible that its utterer should be put on a 48-hour hold in the Octagon or cuffed for falsely reporting.

When Justice Brett Kavanaugh spoke at the Federal Society gala, the cry outside by those protesting was that he was a sexual assaulter because he was “credibly accused.” The ACLU of Southern California gave Dr. Christine Blasey Ford its Courage Award for coming forward with her “credible accusation.” The inevitable arguments followed that Ford’s claim of sexual assault was a credible accusation, so Kavanaugh was thereupon presumed guilty.

Why didn’t Ford pursue charges, either back when it happened or at any point thereafter, including after she gave testimony before the Senate? That’s something of a moot question, since she didn’t and there is no legal compulsion that she do so. It may have been too much to ask of a high school girl to act upon her experience, though some do, and she had every right not to do so afterward.

But then, there is nothing floating in the air other than a naked accusation. Whether it’s credible is the subject of dispute, but for the sake of this point, let’s assume it to rise above the very low bar of incredible. Then what? The target of the accusation is tainted in perpetuity by an accusation that’s never been tested by the crucible of due process?

While the phrase gained enormous popularity with Kavanaugh, it’s gained enormous traction with accusations of rape in general. Following any conceded sexual encounter on campus, the female student cries rape, claiming it was not consensual, and the male student denies it, claiming it was enthusiastically consensual. No one was present but the two of them. Hers is a “credible accusation,” as it’s not incredible. But it’s no more credible than his denial.

Most cases will have additional evidence that either corroborates or disputes the claims. There are usually indicia of credibility, such as the details surrounding the conduct and the consistency of allegations, although these have been thrown into question by the scientifically dubious claims that “trauma” makes it problematic for women to give a detailed or consistent recitation of their complaint, even if it’s the exact opposite in all other forms of traumatic events resulting in accusations of criminal conduct.

But no one ever takes notice of “credible denial.” And when that “credible accusation” goes untested, and is merely embraced by those who choose, for ideological reasons, to believe the accuser despite our fundamental belief in the presumption of innocence combined with our recognition that requiring proof of a negative is, ordinarily, a logical impossibility, does every precept of guilt go out the window?

There is no legal standard of “credible accusation.” It means nothing beyond the accusation not being provably false or laughably absurd. It means, at best, that it’s possible. And yet, this has become close enough for a great many people to accept it as the new “presumed guilty.” Maybe less than proven guilty, but enough to shift the burden from the accuser proving guilt to the accused proving innocence.

Those who proffer the “credibly accused” justification for perpetual taint, for presumption of guilt, aren’t merely wrong to do so, giving credence to a meaningless and non-existent standard, but manipulating the unwary and weak minded. And to be fair, there are a great many who are more than happy to be played, as they want to believe and are thrilled to have a phrase upon which to base their belief, to argue their cause, to clasp to their heaving breast of passionate hatred against those they hate.

In an argument on the twitters, the response to the meaninglessness of “credibly accused” focused on “what more could Ford do at that point than step forward and tell her story?” Fair enough as to Ford, but what does that mean for Kavanaugh? What does that mean for any accused male? That a woman falls short of process, whether of her own doing or just the circumstances, may not be a reason to condemn the woman, but it similarly isn’t a reason to condemn the man.

The accusation might be credible, but it remains unproven. Until it’s proven, it taints nothing and no one, and certainly can’t be a greater taint in perpetuity for its inability to be proven than a “credible accusation” that’s tested by due process and found wanting. A “credible accusation” is not more true for lack of being tested than one that is subject to legal scrutiny.

The reason the burden of proof is on the accuser in our society is that our legal system was founded on the principle that the accused is presumed innocent and remains innocent until proven otherwise. The accused has no duty (and likely no ability) to prove innocence. A “credible accusation” doesn’t change any of this, even if it’s a cool phrase to keep the unduly passionate warm on a cold night. Don’t say it. Don’t believe anyone who does.

9 thoughts on “The Vapid New Standard of “Credibly Accused”

  1. Michael

    The presumption of innocence is not required of private citizens, only of the government

    Are you in favor of the cops who murdered Eric Garner keeping their jobs? They were never convicted

    1. SHG Post author

      Not that this hasn’t already been argued to death here, but while it’s not “required,” there’s a reason for the underlying principle, which is why the law requires it. Can you figure out what that reason might be?

  2. PseudonymousKid


    Oh cool, a phrase that has nothing to do with the law being used by people to confirm their biases. Accusations are easy. Proof is hard. Gotta dumb this stuff down for the groundlings, apparently. Not that anyone is going to wait for proof before accosting the so obviously guilty.

    Put down your pen, Pa and pick up your pitchforks, torches, and rope. There’s a witch to be burned. There’s no time to think and thinking is tough stuff anyway. Let’s just get on with it.


  3. B. McLeod

    Initially useful in extending the reach of The Terror, the ‘credible accusation’ will ultimately further its demise as well. Nobody can prove a negative, and hence, everybody can be ‘credibly accused’ of some horrible thing or another (even multiple horrible things).

    1. JAV

      I agree, which is why I feel pretty stupid about being on the “credibly accused” bandwagon for a while myself. People are still going to see the evidence out in the world and likely make a judgment about it, but a some skepticism is always better.

      I have to reset my stupid ideas sign, but least it’s something new every time.

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