“Not Guilty” and “Innocent,” I believe it’s safe to say that for most people these two terms mean the same thing. However, in the context of our judicial system the two are completely separate and it’s time the L-C Valley took notice.
Some may say that I’m arguing semantics here, but to me this piece is about the fundamental verbiage of our courts. I would never want to see anyone in trouble, but if you find yourself in front of a judge or jury, the difference will be potentially life altering. In recent months there have been a few high profile cases tried in the valley, most notably the babysitter whose life was dragged through the mud after the loss of a little girl under her care (which was proven to not be her fault). “Everyone” was quick to judge the woman in the court of public opinion, but she was given her day in court, a right we all have.
When it came time to report on the case, the local print media of note repeatedly stated in big bold letters that the babysitter had “Pleaded Innocent.” Unfortunately no one, in the history of our court system, has ever pleaded innocent. It cannot be done. Every defendant has pleaded “Not Guilty.” There’s a good reason for that, and it’s because they are presumed innocent until proven guilty. With our local paper reporting that a defendant has pleaded “Innocent,” they are effectively saying that the person is presumed guilty and therefore must prove their innocence.
It is the burden of the state to prove a defendant’s guilt, beyond a reasonable doubt. Until guilt is proven and agreed to by a judge or jury, the person is innocent. This is the basis of over 200 years of judicial practice in this country. But when the papers and other media outlets state that a person has “pleaded innocent” they are undermining the entire process of the courts.
With news only a click away on our phones, we must stand together for the process. Once we let the media chip away at the fundamental aspects of our system, then the system becomes useless. And the more times it is reported that a person pleaded innocent, the more our society will believe that a person is guilty until proven innocent. So for anyone who stands in front of a judge, I ask you this, are you going to plead “innocent” or “not guilty?”