When you have been caught and charged with committing an illegal activity, you may believe your future has been ruined. Although any negative interaction with law enforcement or the judicial system may present difficulties for you later in life, it is not the same as having to face the consequences of an actual criminal conviction. You still have the right to a trial and for a judge or jury (depending on the crime) to find you guilty before receiving any punishment. The right to this process and the possibility of not being convicted is due to the principle of presumption of innocence.
Presumption of innocence
This principle is more commonly known as “innocent until proven guilty.” It means that legally speaking, you are treated as an innocent person, even if you are not, until the criminal justice system finds you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the things charged against you. This can lead to you receiving convictions for some but not all charges, or for none at all.
This belief is not explicit in the U.S. Constitution. It became common law adopted from English practice and is implied in certain Constitutional rights, such as the right to a trial by jury and the right to remain silent.
A part of presumption of innocence is there being no reasonable doubt that you committed the crime. It does not mean the jury has absolute certainty of your guilt, but that the members lack a valid amount of doubt that may result from insufficient or unconvincing evidence.
It is the prosecution’s job to ensure this, not yours. Of course, presenting evidence in your behalf is helpful, but the burden of proof and establishment of your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt lie on the other party. By law, the jury is to determine your guilt based on the prosecution’s efforts to prove the crime and your involvement in it.
The role of an attorney
Despite the importance of these principles, you may still face obstacles. Inaccurate media coverage based solely on accusations can lead to biases. You may have to battle underlying prejudices based on your race, ethnicity, age, gender, sexual orientation, disability, religion or other characteristics.
You need an attorney experienced in criminal defense to help you through the process by guiding your actions and defending you in and out of court. With the right legal representation, you may avoid a criminal record, fees, prison time, unfair treatment and other related consequences of a charge.