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Presumptions of Guilt and Innocence: Let's Examine our Bias

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Page
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Civil Rights Lovefest

Presumptions of Guilt and Innocence: Let's Examine our Bias

Postby Page » Thu Jan 14, 2021 6:27 am

In much of the world, they say that everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty, but while this may be an ideal that the courts are supposed to uphold, at least in theory, it's definitely not the case for the public. I would like to start a discussion about the assumptions that we make of people accused of crimes, not from the perspective of a juror but as someone who is watching the news. I think we all have biases and I invite all of you to examine them and share them here honestly. Further, let us discuss what our biases say about us as a society and how our individual politics, culture, and experience influence these biases.

To get the ball rolling, I'll bring up some scenarios and talk about my perception and my ideas of what makes others react the way they do.

- People accused of possessing child pornography. With few exceptions, I tend to presume guilt. I do not generally entertain the notion that someone might be framed for this or that they stumbled into it accidentally because I don't think an innocent person would do anything but try to delete all immediately or get rid of the device it's on altogether. That said, I think we as a society should be cognizant of our strong emotional reactions to this kind of accusation regarding sexual exploitation of children because when society enters a moral panic, innocent people do get swept up in it. Here is an example: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McMartin_preschool_trial

- Police killings of innocent people. I tend to presume guilt as I think there is ample evidence that police brutality consists of much more than "a few bad apples", to be honest I'm at the point where I feel generous in saying there are a few good apples. Now I of course recognize that this is an unpopular position and that the majority of people tend to presume innocence. I do not make the assumption that a police officer has committed a premeditated murder, rather that their behavior is a byproduct of their training and the culture of law enforcement, that they are instilled with the attitude that they are like an occupying army in a hostile land and that every civilian is a potential insurgent. It's not that cops go out looking to kill, but that at the slightest hint of danger they are willing to use extreme prophylactic measures. I ask myself, if this were the same scenario but it was a civilian instead of a cop, what would I think of this? People's initial feelings about police killings are definitely tied to their politics and to race.

- Political corruption. How I feel about this is very dependent on the country and the affiliation of the accused and accusers. If I hear of a member of the opposition being accused of corruption in Brazil or the Philippines, I default to a very strong presumption of innocence because I know that reactionary authoritarians use the law as a weapon. If it's happening in China, my feelings could go either way. I definitely believe the government frames dissidents but I also believe that their business world is full of parasitic people looking to increase their fortunes, so tax evasion and corruption charges can be quite plausible, I have similar feelings regarding situations in Russia where it's Putin vs. an oligarch, I don't really trust either of them. In America, I admit to having kneejerk reactions depending on the state, if I hear about corruption in Illinois there is a part of me that thinks "yeah, they're all dirty, every single one" but I recognize I have been influenced by media coverage and cultural perceptions.

- Famous murder cases. I had a very strong presumption of guilt with Casey Anthony but I 100% believed Amanda Knox was innocent, I don't want to get too far into it or this post will be way too long, but I'd be interested to hear your opinions on these cases and others.

- Drugs. I think people having drugs planted on them is quite common so I might presume innocence, although I admit that my feelings against prohibition basically mean that I either think they're innocent or I know they're not but I hope they get away with it anyway, though this doesn't apply to large quantities and kingpins.

- Rape. I tend to presume guilt because I think a person has very little to gain and a lot to lose by making a false accusation, especially in a case with a great deal of public attention. The entire process of making an accusation means dealing with all manner of degradation from having a rape kit done to your sex life scrutinized in the media to the accused's attorney trying to discredit you in court. Like police shootings, one's presumption is tied to politics. In feminist spaces there is often a unanimous presumption of guilt, in right-wing spaces the discussion will immediately go toward talk of there being an epidemic of false accusations and #MeToo being out of control, unless the accused figure is extremely disliked by them such as Bill Clinton, in which case there will be a unanimous presumption of guilt while liberals will mostly presume innocence.

So, confess your biases and share your thoughts on what makes people think the way they do. Feel free to add any other type of crime where there are often strong presumptions of guilt or innocence or your feelings on famous cases.
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Sundiata
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Postby Sundiata » Thu Jan 14, 2021 6:41 am

Well, I work with victims of abuse and I am required to presume innocence.

After you see enough bruises, lacerations, and hear enough sad stories, you learn how to prove guilt instead of assume.
Last edited by Sundiata on Thu Jan 14, 2021 6:45 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby Galloism » Thu Jan 14, 2021 7:22 am

First, I'd like to say, as a juror, my presumption is innocence full stop - regardless of crime.

As a nonjuror, it varies a lot.

I tend to presume possession charges (child pornography, drugs, etc) are probably guilty, because possession is really easy to prove. I generally object to drug laws in principle (with few exceptions), but that doesn't change the guilt or innocence.

Police killings I used to be strong presumption of innocence, but that's eroded away in the last couple of years. Seen a lot of assholes doing asshole things, and it's no longer shocking for that to occur. So i wouldn't say "presume guilt", but I'm certainly open to the question.

Political corruption I tend to presume guilt in western countries. I believe politicians are generally snakes and liars, and it's likely if they've been charged they're probably guilty as sin. In countries without such a track record, as you pointed out, I'm more open to the question. I still think their politicians are probably snakes and liars, but you aren't wrong about it being used as a political weapon.

Murder cases I tend to be open to the question. Evidence is what you need - of guilt or innocence. For instance, I think Rittenhouse is innocent, but OJ is guilty (you can't write a book that boiled down to "If I had done it, this is how I would have done it" and not sway my opinion on your guilt).

Rape - Let's break this down into a couple categories.
1) Rape where the person has made a police complaint, had a rape kit done, etc - probably guilty for all the reasons you stated in your post.
2) Rape where the person hasn't made a police complaint, no rape kit done, and it comes up purely in the context of divorce or college, etc I'm more open to the question. In those cases, it could be legitimate - lots of rapes go unreported to police. But the person stating the claim also has plenty of valid reasons to lie (financial gain, revenge, etc), and claims of rape or abuse are sometimes used to make our institutions assist in furthering a pattern of abuse of the person making the claim. Seen this in quite a few cases where I've been helping people I believe are victims of a longstanding pattern of abuse by an abusive partner, and this is used in furtherance of that abuse.

Abuse - this one is really hard. Abusers (especially female abusers) seem to use the legal system as a tool to further their abuse. But many people making claims of abuse are, in fact, abused. It's really really hard to know if the person going to the police is the abuser or the victim (or if it's a case of mutual abuse where the person is both a victim and an abuser at different times in different contexts). These cases get murky and difficult fast, and so I'm very very open to the question.

So there's my biases.
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Adamede
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Postby Adamede » Thu Jan 14, 2021 10:14 am

I try not to make any assumptions. We have the courts for a reason.

The public making up its mind is a good way for innocent people to be burned. Just like that fucking episode with Reddit back during the Boston Marathon bombing.
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Nakena
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Postby Nakena » Thu Jan 14, 2021 12:05 pm

I tend to presume bullshit by default unless proper and reliable investigation, evidence etc determined otherwise.
Last edited by Nakena on Thu Jan 14, 2021 12:06 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Torisakia
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Postby Torisakia » Thu Jan 14, 2021 1:23 pm

I live on the concept of guilty until proven guilty. Innocence is a myth.
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Adamede
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Postby Adamede » Thu Jan 14, 2021 1:27 pm

Torisakia wrote:I live on the concept of guilty until proven guilty. Innocence is a myth.

Then I guess we better go she was and lock you up just to be safe.
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Pro: Democracy, 1st & 2nd Amendments, Science, Conservation, Nuclear, universal healthcare, Equality regardless of race, creed, or sexual orientation.
Neutral : Feminism, anarchism
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Torisakia
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Postby Torisakia » Thu Jan 14, 2021 1:28 pm

Adamede wrote:
Torisakia wrote:I live on the concept of guilty until proven guilty. Innocence is a myth.

Then I guess we better go she was and lock you up just to be safe.

Already done. I'm typing this from prison.
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Postby Dumb Ideologies » Thu Jan 14, 2021 1:29 pm

I'm very contrary, so unless it seems to be super-obvious I tend towards the opposite of whatever everyone else is saying.
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Adamede
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Psychotic Dictatorship

Postby Adamede » Thu Jan 14, 2021 1:29 pm

Torisakia wrote:
Adamede wrote:Then I guess we better go she was and lock you up just to be safe.

Already done. I'm typing this from prison.

Good to hear.
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Postby Parxland » Thu Jan 14, 2021 4:53 pm

It's all their fault! *dives through an open window nearby*
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Nattily Dressed Anarchists on Bicycles
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Postby Nattily Dressed Anarchists on Bicycles » Thu Jan 14, 2021 5:28 pm

Based on my one single experience sitting on a jury, I'd say the bigger issue is less about presumption of innocence, and more about what constitutes evidence of a claim. I came away from the experience most disturbed about how an accusation by a police officer is presented and taken as evidence either of a related accusation, or, even more bizarrely, of itself.

(The case itself had to do with illegal possession of a dirk or dagger, with the prosecution trying to tack on a gang member enhancement. All 12 of us, upon examining the dirk/dagger in question arrived unanimously at "yep that's a dirk/dagger" within about 30 seconds of entering the deliberation room. We then proceeded to argue about whether a cavalcade of police testimony to the effect of "and he's a gang member because he wears, sits, of otherwise exists thusly" constitutes sufficient evidence for the enhancement. By "we" I mean me and a professor emeritus vs. everyone else. We hung. The jury, not the defendant.)
Last edited by Nattily Dressed Anarchists on Bicycles on Thu Jan 14, 2021 5:29 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Glorious Hong Kong
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Postby Glorious Hong Kong » Fri Jan 15, 2021 8:49 am

I believe that in the case of authoritarian regimes such as the PRC and large companies such as Shell where transparency and accountability are sorely lacking, the burden of proof ought to shift toward the accused. If they're so innocent of all the absolutely heinous crimes they've been accused of, why go out of their way to cover things up, destroy evidence, and restrict access to NGOs, independent journalists, and investigators? Why the disappearances, forced confessions, assassinations of journalists, whistleblowers, and political opponents? Why the firing of top officials and colleagues who might potentially act against you? Why the sudden declaration of a state of emergency/martial law? Why the sudden passage of a slew of draconian laws ostensibly to uphold national security? Why the blocking of certain, potentially incriminating websites and domains?
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