Editorial: Not guilty versus innocent

Column By Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin

Guilty or not guilty. In the United States, a person is considered innocent until proven guilty. In the United States court of law, the verdict is “guilty” or “not guilty” instead of “guilty” or “innocent.” Not guilty does not mean innocent. But, are the acquitted innocent?

Authors Danile Givelber and Amy Farrell in their 2012 book, Not Guilty; Are the Acquitted Innocent? wrote “Judges in criminal cases tell jurors that they must presume that the accused are not guilty of the crimes charged. They also tell jurors that prosecutors are obliged to introduce evidence to persuade them beyond any reasonable doubt that the defendants are guilty. If the state succeeds in doing so, then juries must convict. If the state fails to eliminate reasonable doubt about guilt, juries must acquit. A not guilty verdict says something definitive about the evidence that the state introduced: it was insufficient to eliminate all reasonable doubt about guilt from the minds of the jurors. But acquittals do not answer, nor even address, the question of whether defendants are factually innocent. All we know is that the juries were not persuaded that the defendants committed the crimes charged.”

Innocent means that you did not commit the crime. Not Guilty means that there was not sufficient evidence to determine that you did commit the crime. Reasonable doubt is what defense attorneys hammer into jurors’ heads. But, innocent people do get convicted and guilty people do get acquitted.

“I’m absolutely, l00 percent, not guilty,” proclaimed O. J. Simpson. But, Sean Combs declared, “I’m glad the truth is out. I’m glad everyone knows I’m innocent, not guilty.” Hmmm, interesting.

Objection!: How High-Priced Defense Attorney’s Celebrity Defendants, and a 24/7 Media Have Hijacked Our Criminal Justice System, a 2006 book by Nancy Grace, makes her case for what’s wrong with the American legal system.

And then there’s the plea bargain. According to a 2017 article by Emily Yoffe in The Atlantic, “This is the age of the plea bargain…The vast majority of felony convictions are now the result of plea bargains—some 94 percent at the state level, and some 97 percent at the federal level. Estimates for misdemeanor convictions run even higher. These are astonishing statistics, and they reveal a stark new truth about the American criminal-justice system: Very few cases go to trial.” www.theatlantic.com/.

I did watch the televised trials of Scott Peterson, Casey Anthony, and Dennis Lynn Rader.

But, you know the old saying, “The only time you want a cut-throat, unethical, lying lawyer is when you’re guilty.”

Criminal Defense lawyer, Craig Platt, to the rescue with his 2016 article in the Huffington Post—5 Things TV Gets Wrong About Criminal Defense Lawyers. Platt proclaims, I am sure some people may have trouble believing that lawyers are not unethical, lying, cheating, lazy swine who will do or say anything to win, with no regard for The Law. To those people, I have only one thing to say: you’re watching too much TV!” www.huffingtonpost.com/.

The criminal justice system, like any system designed by human beings, clearly has its flaws.— Ben Whishaw

Melissa Martin, Ph.D., is an author, columnist, educator, and therapist. She lives in Southern Ohio. www.melissamartinchildrensauthor.com.