Clinical Law Prof Blog

Editor: Jeffrey R. Baker
Pepperdine University
School of Law

Sunday, October 7, 2018

The New Champions of the Presumption of Innocence?

Like many of you who were concerned about the confirmation and hasty swearing in of our newest Supreme Court Justice, I woke up this morning tempted to despair. As I caught up with the public statements of McConnell, Collins, and others, however, I realized that there’s no need to fear for the independence of the judiciary—especially as it relates to criminal justice reform and mass incarceration. Indeed, those of us who spend our days in prisons, jails, courtrooms, and classrooms—worried about the school to prison pipeline; implicit (and explicit) racial bias; institutionalization; and whether our indigent clients can ever get a fair shake in this country—now know for certain that we have new champions in our corner, new converts to our cause: Republican Senators!

Mitch McConnell, who for years has played a leadership role in the Senate, supporting, for example, the war on drugs, disparities between sentencing for crack cocaine and powder cocaine convictions, the federal death penalty, and limitation of federal habeas relief, has now proclaimed himself the Standard Bearer for the Presumption of Innocence! Mitch, welcome to the team! I would never have guessed that this was your pet issue! Criminal defense attorneys don’t judge, however; it’s never too late to start spending time with people of color just hoping they can get a jury of their peers to see them as human beings! As they say on The Price is Right (not a reference to your donor base)… Come On Down!

And Senator Susan Collins, dang girl! I’m totally borrowing from your statement in my next appeal challenging the sufficiency of the evidence of a criminal charge! This is good stuff:

...we will be ill served in the long run if we abandon the presumption of innocence and fairness, tempting though it may be. We must always remember that it is when passions are most inflamed that fairness is most in jeopardy...

I literally couldn’t have said it better myself. I know it must have taken a good deal of principle to risk alienating your base, which—let’s be honest—has supported you more for your votes supporting, say, withholding federal funding from sanctuary cities and authorizing (and extending) the Patriot Act. But you did it!! You planted your feet and stood up for the little guy facing the awesome power of the federal government arrayed against him. Well, not quite—but close enough.

So this is just an educated guess, but I suspect our new Presumption of Innocence Champions are going to start with national bail reform. I mean, that’s kind of low-hanging fruit, so it only makes sense. Divorcing considerations of wealth from considerations of whether a (presumed innocent) defendant will show up for court is a no-brainer! First, it supports the new Republican cause celebre (sweet! political points scored!). Second, it saves money (which is Republicans’ second favorite thing!) related to the expense of housing presumed-innocent defendants as they await trial—some for as many as several years. Third, it keeps families together until there has been a definitive adjudication of guilt. That only makes sense for Senators Collins and McConnell. I can’t wait to stand with them on this!

The next steps in criminal justice reform are anyone’s guess, really, and the sky’s the limit! There are so many many many many opportunities in America to support the ideal of the presumption of innocence and protect those facing charges when “fairness is most in jeopardy,” according to Senator Collins. All I know is, I want in! I mean, I’ve been waiting my whole career for someone to listen to the voices crying out in the wilderness for true justice for those facing criminal accusations. Oh me of little faith.

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/clinic_prof/2018/10/the-new-champions-of-the-presumption-of-innocence.html

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