Innocent until proven guilty.
This phrase defines what many U.S. citizens consider a fundamental truth within our judicial system. Basically, it is the prosecution’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If reasonable doubt remains then the defendant is rendered not guilty. The verdict is ‘not guilty’ because guilt beyond a reasonable doubt had not been established by the prosecution. The verdict is not ‘innocent’, because proof of innocence by the defendant is not necessary.
That is about to change.
Today President Obama, along with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, announced tax changes for United States companies doing business overseas. The plan will crackdown on individuals and corporations who generate profits outside of the U.S. but defer paying taxes in the U.S. until those profits comeback to the United States. Currently, individuals have the ability place money in offshore and overseas institutions who do not report to the United States Internal Revenue Service. In Switzerland, for example, Swiss law allows for complete privacy of bank information. The proposal put forth by President Obama states that Americans who do business with institutions who do not cooperate with the Government of the United States will have to prove that they are not evading taxes.
From the MSNBC web site:
Obama also planned to ask Congress to crack down on tax havens and implement a major shift in the way courts view guilt. Under Obama’s proposal, Americans would have to prove they were not breaking U.S. tax laws by sending money to banks that don’t cooperate with tax officials. It essentially would reverse the long-held assumption of innocence in U.S. courts.
Forget the changes in tax law, because that is not what caught my attention. What caught my attention is that for the first time, individual Americans will be charged and tried by the United States Government with the assumption of guilt. This means that the prosecution will not have to prove that you are guilty, that even without solid evidence, the burden of proof will shift to the defendant.
Why is this important? This could just be the beginning. The presumption of innocence where the burden of proof falls on the prosecution is not a right protected by the Constitution. From the web site usconstitution.net:
The concept of the presumption of innocence is one of the most basic in our system of justice. However, in so many words, it is not codified in the text of the Constitution. This basic right comes to us, like many things, from English jurisprudence, and has been a part of that system for so long, that it is considered common law.
The concept of innocent until proven guilty has been with us so long it is considered common law. What will happen when President Obama leads a change in this thinking? I can hear some of you saying, “Not a big deal.” Think about this imaginary news article below:
Tuesday morning (your town) police found a stolen 2008 Mercedes in the driveway of (your name here). After the car was impounded, 20 kilos of cocaine with an estimated street value of $325,000 was discovered in the trunk. (your name here) was taken into custody and charged with receiving stolen property (the Mercedes) as well as possession of cocaine with intent to distribute.
As a defendant in the above scenario, would you rather have the prosecution have to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, or would you rather have to prove your innocence beyond a reasonable doubt?
Guilty until proven innocent. Think about it.