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December 12, 2017

Innocent Until Proven Guilty


On the need to prove guilt, and of being innocent until proven otherwise.

Even in the very few instances where the accused has intrusted his defender with a full confession of his crime, we hold it to be clear that he may still be lawfully defended. The guilt of which he may be conscious, and which he may have so disclosed, he has still a right to see distinctly proved upon him by legal evidence. To suborn wretches to the commission of perjury, or procure the absence of witnesses by bribes, is to commit a separate and execrable crime; to tamper with the purity of the judges, is still more odious: But there is no reason why any party should not, by fair and animated arguments, demonstrate the insufficiency of that testimony, on which alone a righteous judgment can be pronounced to his destruction. Human beings are never to be run down, like beasts of prey, without respect to the laws of the chase. If society must make a sacrifice of any one of its members, let it proceed according to general rules, upon known principles, and with clear proof of necessity: let us carve him as a feast fit for the gods, not hew him as a carcase for the hounds. Reversing the paradox above cited from Paley, we should not despair of finding strong arguments in support of another, and maintain that it is desirable that guilty men should sometimes escape, by the operation of these general rules, which form the only security for innocence.

- Sydney Smith, The Edinburgh Review: Or Critical Journal



 

 
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