Every person who is charged with a crime enjoys certain Constitutional rights. One of those rights is the right to be presumed innocent until they are proven guilty in a court of law, using the standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt”. This right means that the burden to prove that a person committed the charged offense rests squarely on the prosecutor. In other words, the prosecutor must prove the person’s guilt rather than the defendant establishing innocence.
The presumption of innocence in a criminal cases means several things. First, it makes the state more selective when deciding whether to file criminal charges against a person in the first place. Since the state will have to prove the person’s guilt, this helps prevent the authorities from using criminal charges simply to harass people.
Second, a person who is charged with a crime does not have to present evidence or even have to testify in their own defense. Juries are instructed regarding the prosecutor’s burden and must follow the law. They are not able to hold it against a criminal defendant if the defendant chooses to remain silent. If the prosecution fails to meet its burden of proof in a case, the jury must return a verdict of not guilty, even if the defendant puts on no evidence and does not speak.
The presumption of innocence is a cornerstone of American criminal law. Along with the Constitutional right to remain silent, it is a powerful right that is in place in order to protect everyone. People who are preparing to go to trial may want to discuss whether they should testify or refrain from doing so with their criminal defense attorney. There are many considerations to think about regarding the advisability of getting on the stand, and the advice of such an attorney based on his or her experience in prior trials can be helpful.