The presumption of innocence exists in theory, not reality

What is to be done?

Wrongful Convictions Blog

By: Keith Findlay

Keith Findley is an assistant professor of law at the University of Wisconsin Law School, where he is co-director of the Wisconsin Innocence Project. He represented Steven Avery, subject of the “Making a Murderer” documentary, in the 2005 proceedings that produced DNA evidence to prove Avery’s innocence and exonerate him of a 1985 sexual assault conviction.

If, as the Supreme Court has consistently declared, the presumption of innocence is among the most fundamental principles in our criminal justice system, it is also among the most fragile.

The presumption is under constant assault from jurors’ natural assumption that if someone is arrested and charged with a crime, he or she must have done something wrong. It is also vulnerable to the media frenzy around high-profile cases, the fear-driven politics of crime, the highly punitive nature of our culture and the innate cognitive processes that produce tunnel…

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