“Beyond a reasonable doubt” and “Burden of proof”: These are terms which basically state that, in order to take away one’s right of “innocent until proven guilty,” the accountability is on the accusing agency to provide an overwhelming set of facts which leave little to no doubt about a defendant’s guilt. It is a basic tenet of our legal system, one designed to ensure that, just because one is accused, does not mean immediate prosecution for that person. The problem? It is not absolute.
The state where I live is one of 23 where, for certain crimes, those investigating must only prove that a “reasonable person” could conclude that something may have happened. In other words, for these crimes, there merely needs to be a preponderance of evidence against the accused — the term for a mere supposition of guilt; one that is usually reserved for civil (non-criminal) cases. In these cases, nothing more than an accusation is needed to bring a person before a judge — no burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt is required.
Further complicating things is the fact that, in these situations, the investigation is discouraged from looking into the background of the accuser. This is designed so that victims don’t fear having their backgrounds scrutinized, and have past activities potentially work against them. For the accused, this means that, regardless of pattern, an accuser can make false reports essentially without retribution.
And, how does the State define a “reasonable person?” On paper, they claim that any average, every day citizen would be considered reasonable, and especially doctors, teachers, psychiatrists, etc. (so-called “mandated reporters”). However, under scrutiny, the agencies admit that reasonable persons are the people whom they personally and arbitrarily deem to be reasonable (Note: the definition changes dependent upon the situation). In other words, they would take the word of a person in their own office with limited education and no understanding of the accused, or a doctor who spends a short 8 clinical hours with an individual, over the word of an accused person’s personal psychiatrist of the last 3 years or life-long family physician.
While this barely scratches the surface, these are the first bricks of the foundation for the memoir, Until Proven. Please stay tuned for more nuggets about what I hope will be an intriguing, informative and entertaining story.
Do you have similar experiences? Care to share? Please comment!