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June 30, 2010

Presumed Innocent

Tom McLaughlin

Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia – One of the implied guarantees of our U. S. Constitution, and whose concept has been upheld by the Supreme Court in numerous rulings, is the presumption of innocence. A government must presume a person has not committed any crime unless the evidence, which usually must be overwhelming, proves, beyond a reasonable doubt, that an individual is guilty. Then, and only then, can the government deprive an individual of life or liberty.


By extension, the police, in any form, town, city state or federal, must assume an individual is innocent before over whelming evidence demonstrates the person may be guilty of a crime. When scanning a crime scene, the officer must have the mindset that everyone he sees is innocent unless some form of evidence indicates differently.


In too many cases a small minority of police have violated this principle of presumption of innocence. Racial profiling assumes that a person is guilty because of skin color, and, therefore, requires deprivation of liberty. Whether this is a traffic stop because a person is black, or in Arizona halted because one may or may not be illegal because he or she looks Mexican.


The action does not allow a person to continue on with their journey thus depriving liberty. When you stop someone because you suspect he/she could be guilty of a crime because of skin color, then you violate their presumed innocence rights.


There is another concept that is embodied in our fundamental ideas of democracy and that – penned into the Declaration of Independence – all men are created equal. The idea that my skin color, religion, or any other difference, is better that yours is racism. Because I assume I am better than you because I am black, brown or white, or, more dangerously, a group of people united in this belief – i.e., the Ku Klux Klan – violates this equality principle.


The Arizona immigration law requires all immigrants to carry documents to show they are in the country legally. This law violates both the presumption of innocence and equality principles that are our democracy. To enforce the law one must presume that a person is guilty by asking for such documents. This violates the presumption of innocence because it assumes somebody is guilty and deprives the person, even for a few moments, his liberty.


The only way this law can be enforced is if the police have overwhelming evidence that the person is in the country illegally. The only overwhelming evidence I can understand would be a person running across the border and, then, and only then, can a person be stopped and asked for documents.


To take this law to the absurd, the Constitution, supported by Supreme Court rulings, requires the law be enforced regardless of race. Therefore, if a policeman stops a person of color he, therefore, must stop a white person and a tally must be kept. To walk further down this yellow brick road, everybody would be required to carry citizenship papers, an impossibility given the bureaucratic nature of our country.


To extend this further into absurd, the only true legal immigrants are the Native Americans.


The Arizona law violates presumption of innocence, equality under the law and enforcement is impossible without venturing into the Land of Oz or down the rabbit hole. Or worse.

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