Samuel Goldberg has been a Massachusetts criminal defense attorney for 20 years. Prior to that, he was a New York state prosecutor. He has published various articles regarding the practice of criminal law and frequently provides legal analysis on radio and television, appearing on outlets such as the Fox News Channel, Court TV, MSNBC and The BBC Network. To speak to Sam about a criminal matter call (617) 492 3000.

A BOSTON CRIMINAL LAWYER REVEALS THE TRUTH ABOUT THE “PRESUMPTION OF INNOCENCE”

In the practice of law, there are such things as “legal fiction’s”. These are generally items that lawyers make up in order to prove a point. .

Whether the charge is murder, drug trafficking or rape, you have been brought up to believe that the United States Constitution protects you in that prosecution in various ways. One of the most fundamental ways is that you are said to be “presumed innocent”. You are also told that the presumption remains with you unless and until you are proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt by the government.

We use that “presumption of innocence” to explain away and even excuse various inequities and wrongs inherent in criminal prosecutions. For example, a police report is written when charges brought against you. There are cases in which there is no resemblance between the facts described in the police report and what actually happened. “That’s okay”, we basically say. “That police report won’t be going into evidence and, anyway, you are still presumed to be innocent .”

In many of my previous blogs, we have discussed that, usually, while we declare that we believe in the “presumption of innocence”, a criminal defendant more commonly experiences an assumption of guilt. In other words, while a defendant has not yet been convicted of anything, she is treated by prosecutors and, often, judges as if the conviction had already been accomplished.

Despite being presumed innocent, the defendant can be held in custody, violated on any probation, made to lose her job and many other things. All well before the charges facing the defendant have stood the test of a trial.

Through it all, we repeat the mantra that we adhere to a “presumption of innocence”.

But what does that presumption mean? What happens after the trial if there is an acquittal?

The answer will not make you happy. The fact is that, despite the legal fiction of the “presumption of innocence”, the law will never recognize the defendant as “innocent” of the charges he faced…ever. No matter what happens in the case.

“Wait a minute, Sam! That’s some nice the case is dismissed or you are acquitted, right?”

Nope. Wrong.

The law is quite clear in this instance. Being found “not guilty”, which is the results in an acquittal, is not the same is being found “innocent”. This is why civil cases, and other related matters, can still be brought against you even though you have been acquitted.

All the acquittal means is that the government did not prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

“So, that would mean I was found to be innocent, right? After all, it had been established that I was not found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore I am presumed innocent and remain innocent.”

Sorry. Not the case. It is not treated as if you have been found to be innocent.It has not been decided as a matter of law that you were innocent. The government simply failed to prove you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Likewise, a dismissal is not a finding of innocence. All that happens is that you will never be found guilty should the dismissal not be re-prosecuted.

Therefore, since being “not guilty” is not the same as being “innocent”, there is no way of getting back that legal label of innocence

Now, we can quibble about whether any human being is indeed “innocent”. That, however, is not the issue. The issue is that when charges come against you are presumed to be innocent under the law. However, although you are “presumed innocent”, you will never be found “innocent”. Therefore, since that presumption must end at some time, likely trial, you will become either “guilty” or “not guilty”.

Granted, most people are satisfied with being found “not guilty” of a particular crime. It is important, however, that they remember that they are not legally “innocent”.

That will never happen. The mere allegations, no matter how believable, has destroyed your innocence as to the accusations.

in a way, it kind of makes sense that, even when you are acquitted or charges against you have been dismissed, those criminal charges remain on your record for all to see.

What this means is that, when retaining an attorney, you want to somebody who has knowledge about these consequences of simply being charged. In other words, to keep an eye on civil liability and other possible consequences which can be triggered simply by being accused.

But, in the meantime, have a great, safe and law-abiding weekend!

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