Presumption of innocence: you are innocent, until proven guilty

The presumption of innocence is one of the most important rights that each of us are guaranteed, and, by no coincidence, it is present in a great number of criminal justice systems all over the world.

This is one of the foundations of the American criminal justice system. By the presumption of innocence principle, a defendant in a criminal prosecution is considered innocent until proven guilty. This guarantees that suspects and defendants cannot be declared guilty until the State, or prosecutor, proves the charges beyond a reasonable doubt.

Consequences of the presumption of innocence

You may be on the docket, in front of a Jury, on trial for an alleged criminal offense, but you are still presumed to be innocent until the jury finds that the State has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that you are indeed guilty – period. The main consequences of this principle are:

  • The State must overcome this presumption and prove the defendant guilty beyond the reasonable doubt (see below);
  • A defendant does not need to prove his innocence. In fact, the defendant can choose to put on no defense at all, although it’s highly recommended to hire a criminal defense attorney to defend you at trial;
  • Defendants enjoy the benefit of the doubt, meaning that if the jurors have doubts regarding the defendant’s guilt, he must be found not guilty. The presumption of innocence does not require a jury find a defendant innocent. A jury may find that a defendant is likely guilty, or probably guilty but unless they find he is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt they must acquit.

In summary, during a criminal procedure, it’s the prosecutor’s job to prove the defendant’s guilt. The defendant has no obligation to help the prosecutors, and the jury must be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt of the defendant’s guilt before they can enter a guilty verdict.

An experienced criminal defense lawyer will know the best way to employ defense strategies, such as:

  • “Pleading the Fifth:” invoking the Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and not testify at trial;
  • Showing the jurors flaws in the prosecution’s case;
  • Presenting alternative theories to the jury;
  • Presenting recognized defenses such as self defense, coercion, etc.

You should always seek the guidance of an experienced Wyoming defense attorney if you’re facing criminal charges. Although the Constitution says that the State must prove your guilt, having a professional defense attorney by your side is critical to a successful defense.

The ‘Reasonable Doubt’

Beyond a reasonable doubt is a standard of proof that must be met by the prosecutor in order for a jury to convict someone of a crime. It is the highest standard of proof in the legal system. An officer needs reasonable suspicion to stop someone they suspect of criminal activity and probable cause to arrest that person. A civil jury must find for a party by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). A person’s parental rights may be terminated if unfitness is proved by clear and convincing evidence. However, a person may be not convicted of a crime and deprived of his liberty, unless found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The Wyoming Supreme Court has not defined what “beyond a reasonable doubt” means, stating that is up to the jury to decide based upon the facts of each case.

The best criminal defense doesn’t begin in court, it starts when you first learn that you are under investigation. A good defense lawyer will protect your rights and assist in your defense right from the initiation of the investigation. This forces the State to perform its duty of producing evidence of your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The State has tremendous power and resources to assist them in this endeavor. The only resources a citizen has are the skills of a quality defense attorney.

Disclaimer:As of this date, 1/28/16, all information within this article is accurate and does not establish an attorney-client relationship. Readers should not rely on this information as it is possible for laws to change.