Thursday, August 28, 2014

Guilty Until Proven Innocent


What with matters in Texas and Missouri and points outside and in-between boiling over (or at least coming to a simmer), perhaps we need to take a look at what Mortimer J. Adler (co-author with Louis O. Kelso of The Capitalist Manifesto and The New Capitalists) considered one of the most serious philosophical mistakes of the modern age: the confusion over the difference between knowledge (which is always true) and opinion (which may be true, but has not been proved).

In law, at least in the United States, a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty.  We may think someone is guilty, we may believe someone is guilty, we may hope with all our hearts that someone is guilty.  Until that person has been proven guilty, however, anything regarding his or her guilt is opinion, not knowledge.  Absent empirical evidence or logical argument, i.e., “proof,” the moral and legal presumption is that someone is innocent.

Everybody knew those witches in Salem Village were guilty. . .
The issue here is that, without proof, knowledge extends only to the fact that there is no proof.  No proof, no guilt.  Nor can anyone be required to prove that he or she is innocent, that is, not guilty of an offense.  Requiring someone to prove lack of guilt is to require the impossible — you can only prove that something is, you cannot prove that something is not.

What if someone has been indicted?  Well . . . an indictment is not a trial.  All it is, is that a grand jury has decided there is sufficient evidence to warrant bringing someone to trial.  That’s an opinion, and the judge, jury, and the attorneys then get into the act.

In theory, the law requires more than an opinion to convict.  The law requires facts, such as the fact that what was done is a crime, and the fact that the person accused of a crime actually did it.  Being unpopular is not a crime, neither is being incompetent, or an idiot.  If a politician is a complete (or even partial) boob, the democratic process has the remedy: don’t reelect him, or (where allowed by the constitution) have a recall.

Big Al Capone
In any event, turning things into crimes just to “get” somebody can backfire very easily.  Tax evasion used to be a misdemeanor.  The feds, however, wanted to “get” Al Capone, so they made it a felony because they couldn’t make a case any other way . . . did you know that Elliot Ness was an accountant with an undergrad degree in economics?  Voilà.  Cheating on your taxes can now send you to prison, and the government can use the IRS to go after political enemies.

Sir Thomas More
Believing the pope to be the head of the Church in England used to be a matter of opinion and individual conscience.  Then Henry VIII Tudor decided he wanted to be head of the Church, and get everybody to go along with dumping his wife, so he made denying his claim to be head of the Church high treason.  This allowed him to cut off the head of anyone who disagreed with him (if noble) or hang, draw, and quarter them (if common).  In his mercy, of course, he allowed Thomas More to have his head cut off, even though More was a commoner.

The bottom line is that, assuming an honest judge, many things people consider crimes these days are not crimes at all, or have been made crimes for political reasons.  Take, e.g., the common claim that “the rich” couldn’t possibly have become rich honestly, because there is no way any honest person can get that much money.

Sorry.  A person under both human and divine law must be presumed innocent until proven guilty.  Not supposed guilty, not assumed guilty, not I-hate-his-guts-and-everything-he-stands-for-so-he-must-be-guilty-of-something guilty.

This is because asserting that someone couldn’t possibly be innocent puts the burden of proof on the accused, not the accuser.  Further, going after someone for anti-social activities, or for doing things we disagree with, or for any other reason than he broke the law and it has been proven with facts is to jump (in the immortal style of Yogi Berra) head first into totalitarianism with both feet.

Yes, you’ll “get those bastards,” but you might end up wishing you hadn’t. . . .

#30#

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