I am a criminal defense lawyer here in the Fifth Judicial District. I represent those accused of crime. Many are guilty of something. Others have done nothing at all in violation of the law.
Our judicial system tells us that those accused of crime are presumed to be innocent. In my 25 years of practice, however, I have routinely asked prospective jurors, in one word, to say what comes to mind to describe my client. Never, without prompting, and even after the judge has explained the presumption of innocence, has a single prospective juror said, “innocent.” Many assume he or she is guilty of something because he or she has been charged with a crime, notwithstanding the prior instruction by the judge that the charges are not evidence.
This past week a woman stood trial here in Leadville facing allegations that, had they resulted in a conviction, would likely have sent her to prison for the rest of her life. She and her defense attorney faced the allegations. She was found not guilty of all charges by a unanimous jury of 12.
I don’t know her, but based on what I know from my clients, past and present, these allegations likely changed her life in a way that will never permit her to be who she was before. It is easy to raise allegations in the newspaper, on social media, or to issue press releases. An arrest only requires probable cause, a very low standard of proof relative to the level of proof required to convict someone of a crime in a trial.
A criminal accused does not have the benefit of counsel to defend him or herself against a warrant based only upon probable cause. An individual accused of a crime by indictment from a grand jury does not have the benefit of counsel to defend him or herself against indictment. For these reasons, our Constitution provides for the right to a trial by a jury of our peers. This is a check in the system to protect against improper motives, poor investigations, false accusations and myriad other reasons why those accused of crimes find themselves on trial. The presumption of innocence applies to all of us, and it is our civic duty to observe it and to protect it.