External Policy Studies Criminal Justice and Civil Liberties

The “Radical” Notion of the Presumption of Innocence


The presumption of innocence has been a bulwark of the American justice system since the nation’s founding. Yet, the current scope and scale of pretrial detention prevents us from putting the principle into practice. Shockingly, the vast majority of individuals held in county jails are awaiting adjudication of the charges against them and, therefore, have not been found guilty of a crime meriting punishment. Recognizing this reality, the constitutionally-based presumption of innocence must be supported by a judicial presumption of liberty because the currently-operating justification for holding someone in jail prior to adjudication presumes that person has committed the offense for which they are charged. Pretrial detention should be limited to rare situations in which a defendant poses a specific and definable threat to the adjudication process that the state must demonstrate to a court, rather than the current approach, which liberally allows detention based on the state’s claim that the defendant presents a general threat of potential danger to the community.

Read the full report here.

Image credit: Billion Photos

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