We have all heard the phrase “innocent until proven guilty.” But have we really considered the reasons for this principle? It is easy to say that as a nation built upon freedom and natural rights that we err on the side of caution. Although this is true, it doesn’t do enough justice. There is a stronger reason based on logical systems rather than an ideological principle.
Why are we innocent until proven guilty?
It is impossible to prove a negative declaration. No individual can prove they didn’t do something. We can only prove positive statements. To demonstrate this, we will be looking at the real-world examples of the Obama “birther” movement and the accusation that Jeff Sessions is racist.
First, Let’s look at a hypothetical accusation. I was accused of stealing a car this past Saturday. All I can prove is what I did do this past Saturday. I can prove I was at home Saturday. My roommates can confirm this and my computer records can prove this. That information only proves what I did do. It doesn’t prove that I didn’t steal the car.
The burden of proof lies on the accuser for this same reason. If someone says I stole a car, they have to prove it. It is ridiculous that someone can make an accusation and that the burden would go to the accused to prove the negative. This is also why hearsay holds little weight in any formal court.
Why is this distinction so important?
Over the last few years, it seems like we are forcing the burden of proof onto the accused. We place it on the cops to prove that they aren’t indiscriminately shooting individuals. We put the burden of proof on our employer that they didn’t discriminate against us for a promotion. This is a big problem and a failure of logic. Let’s look at two real world examples. Although all the following examples involve high-profile figures, this problem exists across the entire spectrum of human thought.
The Obama “birther” movement
We all remember this one, right? A claim was made that Obama is not an American citizen and therefore ineligible to become President. This was repeated by a small but vocal group of individuals. We won’t be going into the origins of this movement nor who took over the claim. That part is irrelevant.
As this movement gained speed, the burden of proof suddenly fell on Obama to prove that he wasn’t born in another country. Eventually, he did give a copy of his birth certificate. This proved that he is a legal US citizen and eligible for the presidency. Obama could only provide proof of a positive.
Accusations of racism against Jeff Sessions
This one, in particular, bothers me because these accusations are being thrown around indiscriminately. If someone is going to claim racism, they better have proof. Jeff Sessions recently had a confirmation hearing in the Senate for his nomination to become the next Attorney General. In online forums such as Reddit, there were many discussions accusing Jeff Sessions of racism.
This originated with a couple claims. A popular one was an African-American co-worker accused Jeff Sessions of calling him “boy.” He is also accused of saying that he thought the KKK was cool until he found out they smoked pot. There are other claims as well, such as a voter fraud case where the Defendants were African-American. The fact that the Plaintiffs were African-American as well is frequently left out.
Suddenly, the environment on Reddit, and even in legitimate news outlets, took these things and made them facts. It was all but impossible to discuss these things on that forum. I had no way to prove that Jeff Sessions isn’t a racist. The only things I could speak about were facts we know. We know that Jeff Sessions supported desegregation, sought the death penalty for a KKK leader’s son, and was involved in multiple civil rights cases.
A common response to this was “well, this doesn’t prove he isn’t a racist.” No, it does not. However, that is not where the burden is. In order for me to hop on the “Jeff Sessions is a racist” bandwagon, there needs to be evidence. Hearsay holds no weight.
We really need to get back to the basics of our nation’s fundamental principles. Although these catch phrases can be effective, we need to back them up. This is the purpose of my Back to Basics series. If you enjoyed this, please like my Facebook page (link at the bottom of this site) and share it with your friends and family. I realize the political climate is very divided right now but these ideas go far beyond the left or right. These are principles of basic citizenship and need to be discussed openly and honestly.