When I posted “Guilty As Sin” and somewhat whimsically suggested that we dispense with the formalities of due process for those caught in the act of committing their crime or who otherwise were obviously guilty, I was soundly chastised for even considering taking away any rights of the accused.  We abhor even the possibility of wrongfully convicting and punishing an innocent person.

Our criminal jurisprudence, the constitutional right to due process, and our sense of justice all require that anyone who stands accused of any crime by anyone is presumed to be innocent until proven guilty in a court of law after being afforded his right to a fair trial with a jury of his peers.  Stated plainly, all those accused of a crime are, in the eyes of the law, innocent despite the weight of the evidence against them and despite our sympathy for the alleged victim.   By simple logic, if the accused stands as an innocent person, then the accuser or alleged victim must necessarily be presumed to be wrong either because of a mistake, misunderstanding, or because of a false accusation.

We can’t have it both ways.  We can’t cloak the accused with the mantle of innocence and, at the same time, sanctify the alleged victim as being beyond scrutiny, reproach, or doubt.   In fact, the point of the presumption of innocence is that the accusations being lodged must be questioned, investigated, and, ultimately, tested in a court of law before they are officially deemed to be true.  To allow anyone accused of a crime to be judged and condemned in the court of public opinion is to disavow the presumption of innocence we profess to be of such great importance.

Therein lies what I see as the hypocrisy in our rush to judgment when it comes to crimes of sexual misconduct.  We have reached a point in our culture where anyone accused of a sexual crime is vilified and damaged beyond repair in their reputation long before the trial and the alleged victims of these crimes are afforded the benefit of all doubt upon making the accusation.  We have reversed the process by assuming the veracity of the accuser and thus stripping the accused of all presumptions of innocence.

A clear example of this is seen in the fact that the Syracuse University basketball coach was hounded into apologizing for doubting the truth of the accusations against the assistant coach who he defended.  There was nothing to apologize for if we truly believe in the presumption of innocence.  Regardless of whether or not the assistant coach is found guilty, he is, at this point, an innocent man and his accusers are the ones who should be subject to all of the doubt.

I believe in victims’ rights as much as anyone, but, we need to decide if we are going to condemn the accused before or after the trial, particularly, when pressed by our sense of outrage over sexual crimes.  We, as a nation of laws and a society that cherishes its rights, need to come to terms with our belief in the presumption of innocence which has long been the cornerstone of our criminal justice system.   Either we are going to give the benefit of the doubt to the accused or to the accuser as I don’t believe we can do both.