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DO YOU THINK HE WAS GUILTY? THE PRESUMPTION OF INNOCENCE
At Houston & Alexander, we handle car and motorcycle wrecks, nursing home cases, and even domestic matters. But the cases that seem to attract the most attention are our criminal matters, and the question we’re most often asked with respect to a high-profile case is, “Do you think he was guilty?” Amanda Dunn and I recently represented a client who was charged with first-degree murder. Had he been convicted, he would have been sent to prison for the rest of his life. This was a “cold case,” and our client was charged with the murder and killing of his alleged girlfriend almost 20 years ago. After a four-day trial, the jury found him not guilty and he was released from over 2 1/2 years of custody (he’d been unable to make his $500,000 bond). The jury reached their decision quickly, having deliberated for only four hours. Almost immediately after the jury found him not guilty, Amanda and I were both asked, “Do you think he did it?”
One of our rights as Americans is the presumption of innocence. This means that just because a police officer (or the government) accuses you of a crime, you are presumed to be innocent and may not be found guilty unless — and until — the state has produced evidence that meets and overcomes that presumption by proving you guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. While this legal presumption of innocence is certainly not limited to our country, citizens of certain other countries do not enjoy this right. If you are accused of a crime in China, North Korea, Russia, and other communist countries, you are presumed guilty. In a number of Middle Eastern countries, if you are the victim of a rape, you are considered to be guilty rather than the actual rapist. Attorneys are often called upon to defend people who are in fact guilty of “some crime,” although not necessarily the crime for which they are charged. Our responsibility as attorneys is to hold the state to the standard of proving defendants “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt” and obtaining the best possible outcome while staying within tight ethical boundaries — including not standing idly by if our client takes the stand and fails to tell the truth. In the rare case of that happening, we are ethically bound to withdraw from that case. In the final analysis, it doesn’t matter if our clients are guilty or not guilty. We are legally, morally, and ethically required to zealously defend our clients to best of our ability. In this particular case, though, do we think our client, who was accused of first-degree murder, actually committed the offense and “got away with it?” NO . We believe he was innocent and did not commit the crime.
“One of our rights as Americans is the presumption of innocence.”
Had you been keeping up with this case in the media — in particular, the local online newspaper — you likely would have been surprised. Unfortunately, as is often the case in high- profile criminal matters, the day-to-day coverage of the trial was not entirely accurate. It failed to reflect the degree to which reasonable doubt was presented to the jury. While the outrage was less than we have encountered in other cases, it was still there, and some people thought our client “got away with it.” The jury of his peers who heard the case and considered the evidence disagreed, however.
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