January 10, 2019

A MODEST CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM: People keep informing me that I can’t claim that Angela Davis was involved in the criminal conspiracy that resulted in the murder of a judge because a jury acquitted her.

This reflects a common misconception that being “acquitted” in a criminal trial means that the defendant was found to be “innocent.” What it actually means is that the jury found that “the prosecutor failed to prove that the defendant was guilty (a) of the precise crime charged and (b) beyond a reasonable doubt.” (On (a), a prosecutor may, for example, have a slam-dunk case on negligent homicide, but decide for strategic reasons to only charge first degree murder, and fail to persuade the jury that the defendant met the specific criteria of that charge.)

It wouldn’t solve the entire problem, but I think it would help clarify things if instead of “guilty/not guilty,” the jury form provided for “proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crime(s) charged”/”not proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of the crime(s)” charged/and “likely innocent of the crime(s) charged.”

Besides clarifying matters, it would be informative to the public and a prosecutor’s supervisor if a prosecutor more than very infrequently pursued prosecutions that resulted in “likely innocent” verdicts.

UPDATE: That whole “innocent until proven guilty” thing? That’s in the eyes of the law. If the jury acquits OJ, the government has to treat him as “innocent.” I, on the other hand, can conclude for my own purposes that he is 100% guilty based on the evidence presented.

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