The Bishop and the Butterfly: Murder, Politics, and the End of the Jazz Age
    Nebton's picture

    Innocent until proven guilty? Guilty beyond a reasonable doubt?

    Two phrases that get tossed around a bit are "Innocent until proven guilty" and "Guilty beyond a reasonable doubt". Of course, these phrases are typically reserved for people we want to defend or people we don't want to believe could be guilty of the crime they're accused of.

    As was discussed on a recent posting about Michael Jackson, these are statements of law, and criminal law at that. (I'm about to discuss my understanding of the law, and I hope that lawyers will correct me if I err.) Civil law only has the burden of "preponderence of evidence" to rule against the defendent, but that only makes him/her liable, not guilty. OJ was found liable for the deaths of Ron Goldman and his ex-wife, but not (legally) guilty of them.

    However, in our own cases, if (or rather when) we deem to judge others, what standards make sense for us to use? Should these standards change depending on the actions we plan on taking with respect to our judgement and/or our status? E.g., if I'm an op-ed journalist and I decide MJ committed the crimes he's accused of, one action I can take is to write about it and make clear that I think he did it. Keep in mind, this also applies to people who aren't MJ, and who might or might not have committed the crimes they're being accused of. Does the equation change if I'm merely a lowly blogger writing on Dagblog about my opinion? (I would argue that it does.) Does it matter if the only information I have is being filtered through a biased media (all media is biased in one way or another), as is the case with MJ and pretty much everything else that we as a community would find ourselves discussing.

    So, what do you think? Although the MJ case started me thinking about it, please make your opinions as generic as possible, and realize that the same standards might apply to people you like. For example, I was quite convinced that Bill Clinton committed adultery before he admitted to it, and I said so at the time. I just had to point that out to make sure that Dijamo responds. ;)


    What do I think? I think one should refrain from forming an opinion purely on the basis of tabloid headlines, and should do as much research as possible before expressing opinions that cast a negative light on others.

    MJ, for all I've found wasn't even "liable", he was found innocent beyond resonable doubt.

    As a German entertainer once said, "in a democracy, you are allowed to have an opinion on everything. You are not obligated an opinion on everything." If I have insufficient information, I refrain from having an opinion that smears on the image of someone, or at least from expressing it publicly.

    A valid point, at least about expressing one's opinions publicly. (I think it's impossible not to actually form that opinion, though.)

    I think the Internet has someone changed the meaning of the word "public", or at least the nuance of it. Here on dagblog, I usually assume that I'm talking to a fairly small group of people. I don't really think of it as public, per se. Of course, we're often reminded, especially when Genghis writes something it seems, that there are a lot more people reading this than we might think.

    I am curious as to how you're defining "tabloid headlines". I think there's been quite a bit of information from "respectable" news sources about the stuff that MJ has been accused of. I don't tend to read what would typically be considered tabloid magazines (other than Weekly World News - I needed my alien abduction news!), so I'm not really aware of what they've written. I do know what was recently written in The Week about Jackson, though. (It's in their article "Are we mourning a monster?" if that gives you an idea.)

    Also, as to whether one has "insufficient information", that seems to require individual judgment. I believe that I do have sufficient information when it comes to MJ, but you might (and probably would) disagree. (Of course, it's also possible that you just don't have the same information that I do. I suspect, however, that it's a more a difference in how we evaluate that information and the credibility of the sources of that information.)

    Alas, I would like this discussion to also move beyond MJ. I realize that your statement is generic in itself, but do you feel confident that you apply it across the board? E.g., have you kept any opinions about Bush or Obama (most of us dislike at least one of them) to yourself if they might smear on their image?

    Concerning what's tabloid information: These days, we are in the unfortunate situation that even newspapers considered as reliable have begun to copy from tabloids. Take for example, which I consider a tabloid, or the British Sun. Last weekend, the Sun for the third time claimed to have "preliminary autopsy results" in the Jackson case - even though the first two times have proven false, again almost every major newspaper reported the information. Today, claimed that the Jackson case was now treated as homicide by the LAPD. Almost every major website took it for granted, and if you were lucky, they qualified it as "unconfirmed". Well, by now we know it was bogus. One should think that a major newspaper could make a call to LAPD to ask for confirmation before citing stuff like this.

    After the last two weeks, I'm having trouble believing anything that's not been confirmed by authorities at all, which of course is a dangerous thing when it comes to topics authorities have a vested interest in themselves.

    Concerning the Bush / Obama question. I'm not an American, so I can't really comment on this. But in general, I believe there's a difference between expressing criticism and smearing. To take MJ once again, just because I can't think of a good example referring to Bush or Obama. I've no problem if someone writes "despite the evidence, I have my doubts if he wasn't a pedophile", or "I consider his relationship to children inappropriate". This in my opinion is valid criticism. However, if someone writes "Jackson was a pedophile, a child-molester" etc., this isn't an opinion any longer, because it states something as if it were a fact even though the courts have decided otherwise. In my country, someone who makes such a statement, even if it refers to a celebrity, would risk being charged with libel. As I understand, this is not the case in the US. I have to say, after what I saw during the last two weeks I find this unfortunate.

    Although I think MJ was a pedophile because of the evidence (mainly testimony), I agree with you that it seems odd that different standards apply towards charges of libel when the person being alledgely libeled is a celebrity or political figure. I don't think they deserve better justice than us (as they often get), but I also don't think they deserve worse justice. I also don't think that trying to argue that the justice evens out (or that it still comes out in their favor, which it probably does), justifies the cases where they have fewer legal recourses.

    You are right that, especially with regards to internet sources - but not restricted to them, the 24-hour news cycle has somehow eliminated many sources from doing due diligence. The up-side of the internet is that there are many, many sources out there (I'm not familiar with, for example), and if you find one that makes this mistake too often, you should look for other sources - preferably ones that never make this mistake, or at least do so very, very rarely.

    There are several sites I don't visit anymore because I know that I have to take everything they say with a grain of salt. (To be fair, I take a lot of what is written on dagblog with a grain of salt, but the difference is that dagblog tastes good with salt.)

    Yes but simply not visiting the sites anymore doesn't solve the problem, unfortunately, because everyone copies from them.

    I'm not convinced that celebrities get off the hook easier in general. It depends. In Jackson's case, his life-long battle with the media, as well as the fact he was a black man (no matter how white he looked) and was considered "weird", didn't help.



    Also, I think there's a difference between accusing someone of a crime, and claiming he was innocent. Innocent until proven guilty is a key component of every constitutional state for good reasons. The claim that someone is guilty of a crime like child molestation is far more severe and damaging to a persons life than the claim that he is innocent could ever be. Thus, the more potentially damaging the claim, the more thoroughly researched it should be.

    I agree that the presumption of innocence is a good thing. At some point, however, many of us feel that we have enough evidence to decide that someone is not innocent. Just as criminal cases differ from civil cases due to the consequences of the verdict (or that's my understanding, at least - IANAL), our own personal judgments differ from those of the courts.

    Also, even just with respect to our own judgments, the standards of "innocence" vary depending on the consequences of those judgments. For example, it's one thing to think that there's insufficient evidence to judge MJ guilty, but it's a totally different thing to be so sure of his innocence that you would allow your children to stay with him. (I can understand the former quite easily, but not the latter.)

    Interesting question and debate, Nebton. I agree with nobody. (Or should I say, nobody agrees with me? ;) )

    The question is not the basis for forming and acting upon an opinion, such as refusing to pack off your kids to the Neverland fun camp. We act on opinions all the time without knowing all the facts.

    But publicly proclaiming an opinion about someone's alleged crimes carries a greater impact than ordinary judgments. When the mob condemns someone without sufficient evidence, it can amount to an extrajudicial penalty. The targets of condemnation may be ostracized and their careers may be seriously impacted, not to mention the possible psychological effects. Obviously, such an impact does not reach the level criminal penalty, and I don't think that the ethical standards should be set as high as in a criminal court, but public accusations should bear a higher burden of proof than other statements, and I think that in general, it behooves bloggers to err on the side of caution in such cases.

    I would like to argue that bloggers can have a lower standard than professionals since our impact is smaller, but I think that ignores the facts that as an aggregate our impact is as large, if not larger than professionals, and low standards aggregated do not become higher standards.

    So, I'll agree with you that we should err on the side of caution. I won't change my opinion of MJ, though. ;)

    The question whether I would let my children stay with him doesn't even arise for me. Because when it comes to people I'd let my children stay with, I'd like to know them personally. I don't know MJ personally. And I refuse to psychoanalyse a person I've never met, just on the basis of media reports.

    What disturbes me when it comes to the Jackson case is that I find the coverage totally unbalanced and out of proportion. Mind you, I'm not a fan of his; I don't own a single MJ record. But I'm aware of his achievements in music and his charity activities. Yet, the overwhelming majority of the coverage focusses on nose jobs, prescription drugs, and the like. Reports that cover his charity activities for example are a rarity.

    In Germany, racism against black people isn't an issue, not because Germans aren't racist, but because there are so few black people here they aren't a group worthwhile targeting. As such, the idea that racism may play a part in the Jackson coverage didn't really occur to me for quite some time. But during the last two weeks, I got the impression that the media have tried everything to paint Jackson as the dirty black man with perverse inclinations, who's trying to cover up his perversion by trying to turn white. I'm not directing this at you, please don't mistake me. But it's just the general impression of the media coverage I'm getting.

    I suppose that's evidence that we're visiting very different sites. (Of course, you might also be talking about TV coverage. I don't own a TV, so I'm not seeing that. I do visit abcnews, bbcnews, and cnn, though.) What I mostly saw was tribute after tribute about what a great man he was. Now I'm not seeing much at all (and I'm grateful for that).

    On another note: Wo wohnen Sie? Ich bin in Landstuhl geboren. Jedoch ist mein Deutsch sehr schlecht.

    My impression of the coverage stems from monitoring Google News search (the version) - I don't need to visit the sites, the headlines and short summaries are enough to see what the articles address. Try it, you'll see what I mean.

    No, I'm not talking about TV; TV is actually much better than the internet coverage.

    The problem with the internet coverage is that every minute counts when it comes to site visits. That's the reason even the supposedly reliable press has started copying from tabloids. Every minute they lag behind costs them visits and money, and thus obtaining confirmation becomes a luxury.

    btw., I'm living near Stuttgart.  Not that far from Landsberg.

    This is an interesting side issue. As Nebton alluded, a couple of my posts have received a lot of hits lately (relatively speaking). That was because I posted them early on popular subjects, and Google News featured them. For a large commercial blog, hours and even minutes must make huge differences in readership. I wonder if these demands will degrade news reliability as the big blogs continue to pull readers from MSM.

    FYI to TPM followers: Netscape founder Marc Andreesen recently invested in Talking Points Memo:

    Right now it just seems rather vapid. Not overly sensational, but not informational either. Of course, there's not really that much information to provide. Not surprisingly, the majority of it seems to come from sources that focus on entertainment: MTV and Entertainment Weekly, with CNN being the dominant "regular" news provider on the story.

    Hmm. I might have to rethink how often I visit CNN. ;)

    (Mainly, I don't care about the MJ story. I care more about the bigger, more generic issue of our personal judgments of guilt/innocence and how we act on those judgments.)

    Right now, it is comparatively vapid. Right now, Debbie Rowe seems to be the main target. But this may change tomorrow.

    In general, over the last two weeks the news results have been full of false autopsy reports, allegations of prescription drug abuse, allegegations that Jackson was a pedophile, was homosexual, had relationships with three men he visited in cheap motels and dressed as a woman, had a relationship with the nanny of his kids, some even reported he was castrated.

    Doctors working in university hospitals who have never seen Jackson in person have branded Jackson and his doctors Klein and Chopra as liars via tele-diagnosis, claiming he couldn't have suffered from vitiligo. I'm not even getting into "old friends" and former employees who give interviews about his sex life and prescription drugs consumption.  It has been the ultimate low point of journalism I've ever seen (and I'm 43). The ultimate smear campaign. Tributes to the man? Perhaps one out of 20 articles that even mentioned his achievements, and mostly it was all about record sales.

    I've gone back a few hours (and sorted by date), and I see what you're talking about. There's even a vapid "news" article in there titled "Innocent until proven guilty? Guilty beyond a reasonable doubt?"

    Is there no screening as to what gets on to Google News?

    No, as far as I know. How do you think I've stumbled upon your article?

    All in all, I find it's a good thing that there's no screening for google news. Its a search engine, after all. It's not their place to filter according to self-defined standards. I appreciate that I get an idea of the overall coverage.

    Maybe they should have a different option, then.

    I don't consider dagblog to be a "news" site. Rather, it's a place where average people (no offense to the regulars) post their opinions on items in the news (or on latriner's commentaries on the Old Testament - speaking of which, aren't we a bit overdue?).

    I can see why people might want to expand their view and get nontraditional news sites, and I also know there's a lot of opinion pieces on sites that are intended to be news sites, so that the separation is tricky, but if I'm searching for news, I'd like to be able to separate out the opinions of armchair quarterbacks like myself from news sources that presumbaly feel compelled to do a bit of fact-checking because they have a reputation to uphold.

    I've enjoyed your argumentation, so I'm glad that you found the article.

    MJ, for all I've found wasn't even "liable", he was found innocent beyond resonable doubt.

    Actually, no.  If MJ was acquitted (and I haven't been following this at all.  Did any of the criminal allegations against him actually go to trial?), it doesn't mean he was found innocent b.a.r.d.  It means he wasn't found guilty b.a.r.d.

    Imagine (although this is kinda artificial) that b.a.r.d means 95% certainty.  That means you can't be convicted unless the prosecution proves to the jury that it's 95-100% likely you are guilty.  If, say, it is only 90% likely you are guilty, you will be acquitted -- even though most people would agree that the evidence shows you probably did it.  (O.J. might be a good example of this.)

    If someone is acquitted, it could be because the jury thought he was totally innocent, b.a.r.d., just wrongly accused.  Or it could mean that the jury was quite sure -- e.g. 80 or 90% sure -- he did the bad thing he's accused of, but they weren't convinced b.a.r.d.  They thought there was at least a 5% chance that he didn't do it.  Acquittal does not mean a jury believes the accused didn't do it.  "Innocent until proven guilty" just means that you can't be convicted unless there's no reasonable doubt about your guilt.

    As Nebton points out, the  civil standard is lower -- a balance of probabilities.  Imagine that this means 51% certainty.  If someone is liable, the jury thinks they probably did the bad thing that's alleged.  If they are not found liable, it means the jury is <51% sure he did it -- i.e., the jury thinks they probably didn't do it (<50% probability), or they're really not sure at all (50/50).

    Just to expand on that, even if he's found not liable, that doesn't mean the jury found him innocent beyond a reasonable doubt. It just means that they think it's more likely he's innocent (or not liable) than guilty (or liable).

    OK, I should have phrased it differently. I should have written "was found not guilty beyond resonable doubt". It was a jury court, and the verdict was unanimous on all accounts.

    In case you're unaware, in the US most (if not all) criminal cases require that the verdict be unanimous (regardless of the verdict).

    The phrasing is difficult, even still, as your sentence can be parsed two ways:

    (1) He was found (not guilty) beyond reasonable doubt.

    (2) He was found not (guilty beyond reasonable doubt).

    Obviously, you mean the latter, which is true.

    OK, I should have phrased it differently. I should have written "was found not guilty beyond resonable doubt". It was a jury court, and the verdict was unanimous on all accounts.

    Let me toss something out. I don't know exactly when the phrase "a reasonable doubt" was coined, but I tend to think of it as having a more archaic, more literal meaning than it does in, say, the phrase "a reasonable person."

    I see it as meaning "a doubt that can be reasoned out." In other words, a preponderance of evidence can suggest a scenario leading to a guilty verdict. But if the same evidence could logically be construed in such a way that the defendant is innocent, that constitutes a "reasonable doubt."

    It's obviously the defense attorney's job to propose such an alternative reading of the evidence to the jury or judge. I know the trial starts out with the defendant presumed innocent, but once the evidence presented points to his or her guilt, the defense has the burden to show it is also consistent with its client being innocent.

    Another thought: what standards should we, as bloggers, employ when writing about actions that are clearly not criminal?

    E.g., many speculated on what Obama was doing while at the G-8 conference. I think Genghis's post in that thread makes it clear that Obama was probably not doing what he was accused of. Was it wrong for Deadman to speculate that he was? If so, how wrong was it? Should we beat him with a wet herring, or what?

    Wednesday August 12, 2009

    It is my understanding that our Constitutional Rights are in essence not being honored when our justice system no longers holds the preponderance of innocent until proven guilty.

    Yet I would dare say that most Americans don't understand that our justice system no longer allows one to receive the innocent plea.

    At least that is what my adopted daughter's attorney told me and other family members that was privileged to the attorney's discussion over one month ago.

    Juvenile Justice System -Per Court Appointed Attorney's Statements Given*

    "The juvenile justice system is different than the other justice systems in that we no longer need100% proof that one is guilty of the crime, for all we need to get a guilty verdict is 49.999% that something did occur and not necessarily proof that the one being charged did it."

    I don't know how all feel about those statements, I know how it made me feel and to tell you the truth, I don't know when our system went to this type of court rulings based on "circumstantial evidence," yet folks we are there and it is pretty darn frightening to know that all a child has to do to turn ones life completely upside down is to issue forth alledged statements and the heavy burdenof proof rests completely in the hands of the defendant.

    I feel that is the reason that we have so many sexual offenders in our system for all don't have the money to hire the expensive attorneys that MJ was able to afford and for MJ to have received the acquittal ruling that he got, being innocent is no longer alive in the Juvenile court system, I would have to state that definitely MJ was an innocent man on both counts, and I feel so sorry for the man and what he had to go through to just receive that ruling!

    Many in our land don't know that ithe innocent ruling has been taken away from us and thus when all MJ recieved was an acquittal on both cases, many still thought of MJ as being guilty because he wasn't given an innocent ruling.

    Were MJ to have a drug problem from all the stress and trauma of having to go through all the mess that he did and never receiving the innocent verdict, I can totally inderstand it for I have only been involved in my adopted daughter's case for little over a year and I understand how a watching the justice system a playing their "power games," have almost drove me crazy, not to mention my adopted daughter and her family!

    One last thing for you all to savor and ponder adopted daughter's court appointed attorney told my adopted daughter that even though her husband were found to be given an acquittal, she could never see him again, or his step children for acquittal didn't mean innocent, only that not enough evidence was found to give him a guilty ruling."

    Whereas I then told my adopted daughter's attorney this:

    "What you are saying is this in essence; even though you later discover after you go through all of the discrepencies already present from my adopted daughter's daughter actual statements to the CME examiner and you locate the missing medical exam pictures that DSSI case worker/department have and call all of the witnesses that you have and haven't as of yet called or even bothered to talk to and find out that this 11 year old child, with the help of "other" parental figures have programmed into her for their own self-gained interests; and thus find out that it was all a lie from the start up...does that mean that the best that my adopted daughter's husband can gather for himself after the hell and trauma and illegal incarceration since December 2008, is an acquittal?"

    The court appointed attorney stated, "yes."

    I also believe as well that he will have to register as a sexual predator for the ten year period that this state mandates and I believe in Florida it is twenty years one needs to be registered and followed up on...

    This case hasn't gone to criminal court as of yet...I will be back to post the results of it when it does...

    If all find this acquittal ruling to be a just thing, I would have to say, bull crap!

    Also on either Sixty Minutes or Katie Couric or both, perhaps about a couple of weeks ago they both covered the news special about teenagers 11-18 years of age growing population problem with prostitution and these girls are not from the poor class necessarily, yet from the middle class...something to think about, especially for those guys that believe that having a child sexually even if you have to pay for it, is the way to go!

    For when it comes to push or shove, were a child prostitute with the juvenille legal system such as what I described, were to be caught in a prostitution sting, guess who would go down; child or adult?

    It won't matter much to the court system that one thought the now discovered minor child, looked years older than what one thought she was..."ignorance is no  excuse."

    Just some thoughts to ponder on, one and all...

    ps. Why do I think MJ gave both kids the 20M each?  MJ was a very highly sensitive and evolved man/child and knows like I do, the saying from a great philospher I believe it is Kahil Gilban (not sure if that is the proper spelling of his name) "when one finds themselves with an unworthy master, they serve him up a second helping the next time around."

    Be Blessed

    Love, Light and Peace

    Does anyone know when our justice system stopped the "innocent until found guilty plea.?"  That is the reason I discovered this blog site, for I was a trying to Google that answer."






    Someone will correct me if I'm wrong, I assume, but as far as I know we've never had an "innocent until found guilty plea". What we have had and do have is a presumption of innocence in the legal system. I.e., you are legally considered innocent (in the criminal system) unless you are found guilty. From a legal standpoint there is no difference, even if you are acuitted on a technicality. Of course, as I mention above, it's different in civil cases, and it always has been. All it takes is a preponderence of evidence (50.00001%, not 49.99999%, however.).

    Also, you seem to be confusing the juvenile system (which tries minors) with the system that handles cases dealing with child and protective services. I may be wrong (having no experience with either), but I don't think those are the same systems.

    As for MJ, my original opinion still holds.

    August 12, 2009

    Yet our Constitution states that we have this right.

    No, I am not confused about the Juvenille court system, I guess I would be were I not living it there with my adopted daughter...

    I also do remember persons getting an innocent verdict, so I believe your opinion on it isn't I will move forward into Google and see what comes up.

    As for MJ, it doesn't bother me that your feelings are as such concerning him, for many ride the same motor boat as yourself, besides that little one is now with Our Heavenly Father, who knows what, when, where and how on all things...

    Do I believe our judicial system helped bring about MJ's, early demise?  Absolutely for again, my adopted daughter's court appointed stated, loud and clear, two times, "49.99% not proof, circumstantial evidence and even were the dude wrong by that small tenths of a fraction, still I want to know why only 50% circumstantial evidence to gather a conviction?

    I believe that not only our governmetal system is broken, yet also or judicial system as well...

    Don't believe it?  Then wait and see when one can find prisons more common than gas stations!  Just a throwing it all out there at you.

    Be Blessed, thanks for your quick response!

    Love, Light and Peace

    TCWCool hahahha "I wear my sun glasses at night"



    Yet our Constitution states that we have this right.

    Actually, the Constitution says no such thing. In fact, it doesn't even have the phrase "innocent until proven guilty".

    A quick search of the internets, turned up this interesting article on the phrase. Here's an interesting excerpt:

    Clementi did not know that the maxim "Innocent until proven guilty" cannot be found in any English court case or any jurisprudential treatise before ca. 1800 --- at least I have not yet found it in one. He also did not seem to know that the French, in spite of their legal system’s being based on rebarbative Roman jurisprudence, did include an article in the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of 1789 stating that "every man is presumed innocent until declared guilty."

    I'm curious as to Dr. Cleveland's take on this since he knows far more about law (and probably history) than I do.

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