Today is the 4th of July.
234 years ago, the founders of our country told the King of England that they were no longer going to live under his rule. From that act of rebellion came the principals upon which the United States was created.
Among those principals was the presumption that you are innocent until proven guilty by the government.
Our founders were trying to create a nation where a person would never be in a position where they had to prove their innocence. When accused of a crime, it is the government's obligation to prove that the accused is guilty. In Old England (and in many countries today), an accusation is enough to get somebody convicted of a crime. As well, these accused people may not have the right to be free from unlawful searches and seizures, nor do they have the right to remain silent and not incriminate themselves.
The founders made those points essential elements of our Bill of Rights. The 4th Amendment guarantees that "the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized." In other words, police cannot intrude upon your property or person without a warrant or a valid exception to the warrant requirement. This law prevents unrestrained police action against accused people.
Furthermore, one of the pivotal rights guaranteed by the 5th Amendment states that "[no person] shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself..." This affirms the right to remain silent; the premise that no person shall ever be forced to make a statement or confession to law enforcement.
The 6th Amendment says that "in all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district where in the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his [defense]." This amendment provides for the right to a trial by jury, the right to be informed of the charges, the right to cross-examine witnesses, and the right to be represented by a criminal defense attorney.
Every one of these rights enumerated in the Constitution are built on the idea that an accused person shall be presumed innocent. They shall enjoy all rights afforded to them under the law, and shall have the right to be represented by a competent criminal defense lawyer. If our founders did not believe in the presumption of innocence, these rights would not exist. Police would have unchecked power and accusations would be sufficient for courts to impose sentences without first conducting a jury trial.
Three of the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution pertain to the idea that an accused person is presumed innocent. It is the very cornerstone of our democracy. It is what separates a civilized nation from a total police state.
I fight every single day of my life for the rights of my clients. Every single day I wage war with the government, defending these rights and ensuring that every one of my clients is afforded the protections that our Constitution guarantees.
So on this 4th of July, I am as proud as ever to represent the accused and defend the Bill of Rights. And while I am a red-blooded American who might drink a beer and grill a few steaks later on tonight, I never forget the true meaning of this holiday.
Happy 234th Birthday America!
Attorney Eric Matheny represents clients charged with all criminal matters in Miami-Dade County and Broward County, Florida. You can contact him 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at (888) 900-0365.