Does the Presumption of Innocence Apply to Bad People?
Recently, significant news came out of our region – specifically, the City of Charlottesville. You know about the rally. You know the name James Fields. You know the aftermath with which our entire country has been grappling – rallies, statues, protests, counter-protests, and so on.
The purpose of this post is not to add to all the noise. Instead, it is important to step back and look at this situation in light of our criminal justice system. Everyone thinks they know what happened, and they might be right. The system, however, still needs to run its course. This post will show you the basics of what is happening within that system.
Innocent until Proven Guilty:
Until James Fields’ trial, he is innocent until proven guilty. It might seem funny for some to read that he “allegedly rammed his car into a group of counterprotesters.” It seems pretty obvious. Or, does it? Do we even know his intent? And, what if the media's version of events is incorrect? Someone lost her life as a result of his actions, they might say. It may be true, but the word “alleged” will continue to be used until Fields’ trial concludes that he is guilty.
We forget about the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” these days. In our instant society, trials occur immediately in the “court of public opinion.” Thankfully, this is not how our legal system works, though.
James Fields has received ten charges. Initially, he was charged with second-degree murder, three counts of malicious wounding, and failure to stop at an accident that resulted in death. Five additional charges were filed: two more counts of malicious wounding and three counts of aggravated malicious wounding. Next week’s post will look at each of Fields’ charges – what they mean and how much prison time he could face if convicted.
According to CBS News, the police added the charges because “some of the people injured in the incident suffered serious and permanent injuries.” This is something that can happen with someone charged with a crime. There could be initial charges based on the immediate investigation conducted at the scene of the crime. As the investigation continues and more information becomes known by the authorities, they can use that to add to the charges. For Fields, five charges became ten.
Right to an Attorney:
Fields already appeared in court for one hearing. During that hearing, he was informed of his right to an attorney. When he told the judge that he could not afford one, he was appointed one. This safeguard is built in to make sure that each defendant can be fairly represented in court.
Again, this might seem unnecessary to some. Fields has already been “proven” guilty in the court of public opinion. After all, he drove a car into a crowd of people and caused harm to some of them, right? Why go through all this trouble? But remember, the Commonwealth has the burden of proving each and every element. Again, perhaps he was just a racist who lost control of his car. Or, maybe he isn't even a racist. This is what the trial is for, and it is why the presumption of innocence is crucial for all criminal cases.
This is not needless formality. Everyone deserves his or her day in court. For all the voices from whom we have heard in this story, we have not heard from one: James Fields. Aside from a few words mumbled in court, he has not shared his story.
Yes, we all want justice. Yes, we may think that we know what the outcome to Fields’ trial will be. Deep down, we all want something else, though. We all want to know that, if we are ever a defendant in court, the system – as flawed and unfair as it sometimes can be – will treat us in the same fair and formal way.
If you ever need a defense attorney as part of this process, call or e-mail today for a free consultation!
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