Jewish World Review Oct. 23, 2003 / 27 Tishrei, 5764

Dan Abrams

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Why the presumption of innocence does not and should not exist outside a courtroom


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Since we do a lot of legal stories on my TV program, again and again, I hear people asking what happened to the presumption of innocence in various cases we cover, from Scott Peterson to Kobe Bryant to sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad.


Well, it may sound shocking, but it cannot and should not exist outside of a courtroom.


Think about it: For us to presume someone innocent is for us to say the authorities must have gotten it wrong when they arrested someone. I'm not willing to assume that unless I am a juror. Imagine an evening news piece where the reporter presumed the person innocent. John Doe was arrested today on charges of smuggling drugs, but since the presumption of innocence applies, we must assume the authorities got the wrong person or that it was sugar, not cocaine in his possession.


I'm willing to keep an open mind about guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, particularly in cases where we don't know many of the facts. I view it as an obligation to point out what we don't know. But no journalist, talk show host, or even citizen outside a courtroom should be obligated to presume the authorities are always wrong or lying all the time. The presumption of innocence is a legal fiction designed to stack the deck in favor of the defendant.


Why? Because the authorities have the power to take away someone's freedom. When you have that power, you'd better have enough evidence to back it up. Now I've heard people say that our coverage contributes to the decay of the presumption of innocence inside the courtroom. I'm not going to argue that issue except to say that's what jury selection is for, to ensure that prospective jurors can be fair and initially presume the person innocent. But when authorities make an arrest they are presuming the person guilty.


Inside a courtroom they're going to have to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt and they may turn out to be dead wrong. But the rest of us can discuss the evidence and even have opinions about it without having any guilt about the presumption.

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JWR contributor Dan Abrams anchors “The Abrams Report,” Monday through Friday from 9-10 p.m. ET on MSNBC TV. He also covers legal stories for “NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw,” “Today” and “Dateline NBC.” To visit his website, click here. Comment by clicking here.

Up

10/22/03: College kid (in)security maven deserves country's gratitude
10/21/03: If you don't like it, you can drive
10/17/03: Blurring the line in the Kobe Bryant case between what is significant and what is just salacious
10/16/03: Why prosecutors and the judge shouldn't let Kobe's lawyer hijack the preliminary hearing
10/15/03: False bravado from the mayor of New York
10/13/03: The media circus myth
10/10/03: Angry electorate?
10/07/03: Why a recent ruling in the case of Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called 20th hijacker is no cause for concern
10/02/03: Children, guns and political fear
10/01/03: Why you should hold off on thanking politicians for passing and signing the national do-not-call list
09/30/03: A star Ohio State running back is suing to become eligible for the NFL draft
09/25/03: The effort by some law schools to keep military recruiters off their campuses
09/23/03: What a hurricane can teach us about dealing with terrorism
09/22/03: Why I'm tired of criminal defense attorneys in particular in high profile cases complaining about media leaks
09/18/03: How budget cuts nationwide are starving many of the state courts and allowing some criminals to go free
09/17/03: Charging wounded soldiers for food!?
09/16/03: al Qaeda has finally found a media home
09/15/03: Journalists who exposed security threat, now being punished?
08/14/03: The California ‘student council blue light special’ election
08/13/03: Why the Transportation Security Administration needs to start getting it's priorities straight
08/12/03: Let local U.S. attorneys do their jobs
08/07/03: Why itís time to release the documents surrounding Kobe Bryantís arrest
08/06/03: Terror warnings do serve a purpose
08/03/03: How even the most pro-Saudi polls still make many of the Saudi people seem like enemies of America
08/01/03: Why is the outgoing president of one of the most influential legal organizations advising attorneys not to represent certain clients?
07/31/03: Class action lawyers get huge fees while their clients get squat
07/30/03: Why it makes no sense to keep the public and the victims in the dark about a key section of the 9/11 report from Congress
03/27/03: Homeland Security update
03/20/03: Did I misunderstand the French?
03/18/03: No longer shielded from reality
03/17/03: Franco-phobic nonsense sweeping the nation
03/14/03: An exception to my "be extra tough on terrorists" rule
03/13/03: Whiner Assad still doesn't get it
03/11/03: What a new deadline for Iraq should really mean
03/10/03: The dishonest arguments against war with Iraq
03/07/03: On Iraq, the administration seems undeterred. It seems, there is no other way out
03/05/03: The so-called human shields in Iraq, now coming back from Fantasyland
03/04/03: Michigan backing off of mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug crimes
03/03/03: Why military tribunals could be the best optione of defining them as military
02/28/03: Is prez signaling a return to the American Bar Association ratings for prospective judicial candidates?
02/26/03: And now the "don't-blame-me" attitude is extending to mass deaths
02/10/03: Avoid politicizing the shuttle disaster
01/29/03: A litany of violations? That Saddam has not disarmed is already a given
01/23/03: Why the feds should not give up on the prosecution of alleged 20th hijacker in a federal court
01/22/03: What was Powell thinking?
01/21/03: Human rights groups still don't get it when it comes to the new war on terror
01/16/03: Yet another reason why we shouldn't trust the Saudis
01/13/03: Why the administration should share intelligence with U.N. inspectors
01/10/03: From a special punishment to a garden variety one
01/08/03: Should victims of a terror attack sue the city?
01/06/03: The "Jackpot Jury" syndrome continues
12/30/02: It's the holidays, let me order my wine!
12/20/02: The judge who dropped the ball in the battle over who owns Barry Bonds' 73rd home run ball, valued at nearly $2 million
12/19/02: Requiring Pakistani and Saudi male visitors to register with the INS
12/18/02: Why many seem to misunderstand Iraq's international obligations
12/17/02: Shouldn't there be a standard for what would trigger a war with Iraq?
12/13/02: Judge Rose by what he did on the field
12/12/02: Manhattan prosecutors making a mistake in the Central Park jogger case
12/11/02: Why our government refuses to fully cooperate in the prosecution of a possible 9/11 conspirator
12/10/02: Hezbollah, not a terrorist organization, says Canada
12/09/02: The world's cynical view of America
12/04/02: Why we need to stop electing judges
11/27/02: Why men should be able to sue women who lie about who's the daddy
11/26/02: Training lawyers to be touchy-feely
11/25/02: The story of a real American hero
11/22/02: In Illinois, academics lawyers, judges hurting their pro-life cause
11/15/02: A close reading of Iraq's letter of acceptance makes it clear that Saddam will almost certainly refuse to live up to its terms
11/14/02: Al Jazeera: A state-sponsored mouth-piece
11/13/02: Should Moussaoui be sent to a military tribunal?
11/12/02: Should human rights activists complain about the detainees' treatment?

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