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The presumption of innocence is king

May 11, 2011 The presumption of innocence is king

The presumption of innocence, and the requirement of proof beyond a reasonable doubt in criminal cases, must seem to be a very foreign concept to countless criminal jurors. Hopefully Twelve Angry Men (not this 12 Angry Men) will convince more people of these critical principles of criminal justice.

Praised be the Virginia Court of Appeals yesterday for having reversed an aggravated malicious wounding and child neglect conviction, because the trial judge refused to eject a potential juror who confirmed during jury selection that he had a problem with the presumption of innocence. Scott v. Virginia, ___ Va. App. ___ (May 10, 2011). In pertinent part, Scott says:

During the lengthy question and answer period that followed, Brightwell recognized that “everyone who comes into court is presumed to be innocent under the law,” but conceded that he still would “probably” have a problem with the presumption of Scott’s innocence. At this point, Brightwell should have been precluded from serving on the jury unless he was properly rehabilitated.

Scott further points out: We note that this case differs from other cases such as Hopson, 52 Va. App. at 156-57, 662 S.E.2d at 94-95, where the challenged venire members were confused by misleading questions during voir dire and therefore did not require rehabilitation. Here, there is no evidence that the relevant questions were confusing or misleading. Scott.

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