Wednesday, October 26, 2016

2016 Crisis Part 1: The Presumption of Innocence

It was about a year ago Hillary Clinton had a statement on her campaign website, which she echoed in speeches, stating that victims of sexual abuse had a "right" to be believed. She later edited the website to change the wording to read that victims "deserved" to be believed. She took a lot of heat for both statements from the right due to the hypocrisy surrounding her husband's defense against such claims. But the true damage of such thought goes far beyond a personal hypocrisy.

One of the most basic principles of our judicial system is the notion that an individual is innocent until proven guilty. Am I saying that anyone making a claim of sexual abuse or assault should be dismissed? No. But there is no special status on these crimes that lessens the rights due the accused. Flipping this paradigm on its head places the rights of every American in jeopardy. And, if you think I am exaggerating, just consider this election cycle. In the case of this election, I will later go into more detail as to how it threatens to also undermine our political process. But this post isn't about that.

Now, lets clear up some of the history and logic pertaining to this concept. Not being proven guilty doesn't make someone truly innocent. After all a person is in fact either innocent or guilty of any accusation. What a jury of twelve may believe has no bearing on that reality. But, innocent until proven guilty means that a government can take no action to punish you unless you are proven to be guilty.

This is not only an American ideal, but one that has come into our justice system through what is considered common law. It is not codified anywhere in the US Constitution, but is implied by things that are such as the right to remain silent and the right to a trial by jury.

Thomas Jefferson said "I consider Trial by Jury as the only anchor yet imagined by man by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution."

When it comes to accusations, we live in strange times. When Jefferson said that, the only way to expose accusations to the public required the help of those who bought ink by the barrel. Now, even mediocre celebs have twitter followers in the hundreds of thousands or millions. Accusations, as absurd as to whether Ted Cruz's father was part of the Kennedy assassination or as germane and serious as Secretary Clinton deleted thousands of work-related emails that were under congressional subpoena, are widespread. But when those accusations are made, the media generally approaches them with the spirt of verifying the veracity.

What has been interesting to watch is the way most of the media responds when someone on the right refers to Secretary Clinton as a criminal. They interrupt and say that according to the FBI she isn't a criminal. And they are correct. And while I believe that the actions that I have seen evidence of do rise to the level of criminality, she has not faced a trial by jury.

Now compare that to the way accusations pertaining to "sexual abuse" against Donald Trump are covered. Anybody asking for just a shred of corroborating evidence is peppered with undermining questions such as "why don't you believe these women?", "why would so many come forward if it wasn't true?", or even "why do you hate women?"

I believe, but have no proof, that his idea that victims had a "right" to be believed was purposely put out there to prepare the landscape for the very way they were planning to undermining Trump. Because unfortunately, the media and a large segment of Americans believe that women should be believed.

Now, each and every person has a right to believe what he or she wants to believe about Donald Trump. Just as you have a right to believe that O.J. Simpson slit Nicole Brown Simpson's throat even though the jury couldn't convict beyond reasonable doubt. This presumption of innocence principle singularly pertains to the power of governments to punish.

But cases of sexual abuse are unique in that there is typically little true evidence. But specifically in these cases, there is a noticeable absence of any corroborative evidence of testimony. In contrast to the accusations pertaining to Hillary we know the elements of the crime actually occurred. We know the emails weren't handed over in compliance to the subpoena, we know they weren't all personal, we know she sent and received that carried the classification of "confidential." What the FBI said they couldn't prove what that Hillary Clinton deleted those email with the intent to obstruct justice. So the personal belief that some have that she committed a crime is more than a mere accusation. In the case of Donald Trump, the only evidence that exists that a crime may have been committed at all is the public accusation.

Do you want to live in a world where the mere accusation con ruin someone? It was only a few decades ago when we had a similar situation during the confirmation hearings of Justice Clarence Thomas. In that instance, the left's rallying cry was that "seriousness of the charge" required them to investigate. And they had a hearing to make a determination. And in the end, Thomas was confirmed.
Now, we apparently are in a very different time when we are supposed to, because of the seriousness of the charge, not worry about truly investigating. Just believe the accusers. I find that frightening. And in this case serious political ramifications against the citizenry.

Now, I can already hear the attacks against what I have written here. How I hate women. How I am enabling sexual abuse. But lets be clear, the only principle or value I am defending the bedrock American value that a person should be considered innocent until proven all crimes. There is no new right to victims of sexual assault or abuse. That they have every right under the flaw to pursue justice, to make their case, or to even pursue civilly. But the reality is that not a single one of these accusations could withstand any of the most basic questions that would come up in a criminal or civil proceeding.

A right to be believe, or even deserving to be believed, may sound compassionate and reasonable, but it is dangerous to the American justice system. And it prodominately adversely impacts one sex against another. We have made great steps to level the legal playing field for both men and women, for all races and religious groups, and we shouldn't let the pendulum swing past that just because it makes us feel good. We all deserve equal protection under the law. That doesn't mean you have to vote for Trump. You don't have to like him. But please, don't give up on the presumption of innocence even in cases of sexual assault or abuse.

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