Sunday, July 01, 2007

When is Innocent until Guilty the Rule?

Vic Kohring is just one of the politicians who have wanted to keep their elected positions despite being indicted.

Kohring said he couldn't answer specific questions about the case before it goes to trial.

"All I can say is that people have to remember that I am innocent until proven guilty," he said. (Anchorage Daily News)

John Havelock wrote a much needed commentary in the ADN yesterday, pointing out that "innocent until proven guilty" is the rule

When serving on a jury, empowered to deprive one of our fellow citizens of their freedom or even their life...
But that standard isn't the one we should or do use for other decisions.

No such principle should guide our judgment as individuals when we make decisions about who should we trust with our family or property, or who should be entrusted with public office. . .

Would you let your daughter go out with an accused rapist because, after all, he is entitled to the presumption of innocence?
And surely you wouldn't hire an accountant who had been indicted, but not yet proven guilty, of embezzlement. And elected officials are our employees in a sense. So when there are indicators of wrong doing, we have the right to explain themselves.

Appropriately, in business the employee exercising his legal right to remain silent may be fired if he does not offer, in short order, a persuasive counter to incriminating circumstances. This should also be true of the public officeholder, who can avoid criminally incriminating himself by speaking through a spokesman such as his lawyer. If he can't provide a reasonable explanation, then he should resign or be removed from office.
An indictment is not an offhand comment on talk radio or an anonymous post on the internet. As Havelock points out

A grand jury has found that evidence exists which, if believed, would establish guilt
Knowing when a rule applies and doesn't apply is important in life. Too often people throw out the rule of "Innocent until Proven Guilty" inappropriately. It is an important part of our legal rules, to prevent people from being deprived of life, liberty, or property by the state. And before indicted politicians are imprisoned or fined, that standard is important. But it isn't the standard on which to decide whether they should continue representing us in our government.

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