“Innocent Until Proven Guilty”, or at Least it Should be!

“One of the most sacred principles in the American criminal justice system, holding that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty. In other words, the prosecution must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, each essential element of the crime charged.”

For a second time, a Florida Judge has ruled that the recent change to the Florida “Use of Force Statue” is unconstitutional. Florida is well known for its original use of force statute that was errantly called “Stand Your Ground” even though the law that was talked about is much more than those three words. The actual title of the law is “Use or threatened use of force in defense of person.
When the law passed, the Florida Courts made a change to the law in procedural law, by requiring a person who uses self-defense to prove in a hearing before any criminal trial, that they used force in self-defense. So, in other words, you had to have a hearing and prove to the court that you used force in self-defense, BEFORE you are charged with criminal charges, and the burden of proof rested on the defendant, not the State. Now I am not a lawyer, nor am I a Judge, but even I know that the US judicial system was set up so that the State must prove you are guilty of a crime and not the other way around.
I never heard anyone say the court system was supposed to be set up so that a person when accused of a crime by the State, had to prove their innocence. I have a little bit of experience in being in court, having arrested several thousand people over the last 35 years. But one thing That I always knew was that it was my job, and the job of the State Attorney to prove a person I had arrested was guilty of what I charged them with “beyond a reasonable doubt.”. It has always been the government’s job to prove guilt and not the citizen’s job to prove their innocence. The 6th Amendment in the American Constitution guarantees an individual the right to a fair, speedy, and public trial. The 6th Amendment also enables an individual to have legal assistance, regardless of the charge, and the right to confront adverse witnesses and notice of accusations. These rights are given to all men or women under trial for any wrongdoing. They establish the “innocent until proven guilty” mantra that is present in the United States legal system. It is a corner stone of our legal system. Cornell’s Law School defines this principle as this;

“One of the most sacred principles in the American criminal justice system, holding that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty. In other words, the prosecution must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, each essential element of the crime charged.
Definition provided by Nolo’s Plain-English Law Dictionary.”

So when the Florida Courts mandated a hearing where the citizen had to prove their innocence, you can imagine that it did not sit well with the men and women that wrote the laws of the state of Florida. And many have said that it was a violation of the very basic principles of our Constitution. So the law makers in Florida decided to right what they saw as a wrong by the COUrts and wrote a change to the current law that simply requires that instead of the citizen having to prove their innocence that the State has to prove they did not use force in self-defense. This is as it should have been all along. In fact many think the hearing that you have to have to claim self-defense in and of itself is not right and a violation of the 6th Amendment. So the lawmakers changed it.
Well, it seems that the Judges and Courts in Florida do not like to be corrected or told they are doing something wrong. So in two recent cases, local Judges in the Miami area (this should not surprise anyone coming from that area of the state) have ruled that the new procedure that follows the 6th Amendment of the US Constitution is unconstitutional. Now you try to figure that one out.
While I am sure that these cases will ultimately end up before the Florida Supreme Court for a final ruling, until then maybe we should just follow the current laws and US Constitutional Amendments? Wouldn’t that be a novel idea?
I know from talking to many people in the legal field, including Assistant U.S. Attorney’s, State Prosecutors and Public Defenders, they are all for following the 6th Amendment. Many have expressed a desire to do away completely with the pretrial hearing as it strikes them as being almost a double jeopardy issue, having to prove the guilt or innocence more than once.
So I offer my layman’s solution to this entire ordeal. If someone uses force and claims self-defense, then if the state thinks that they did not have a legal self-defense use or violated a law, they charge them and put them on trial for that crime. If they cannot prove the citizen committed a crime, then they do not charge the person, and they are free. That is the way it has been for a couple of hundred years now and seems to work just fine. Why are we adding more trials and hearings to a criminal proceeding?
If you use force in self-defense in Florida, it is still currently the law that the State must prove you did not use it legally in self-defense, not your responsibility to prove you did. As it should have been and should always be. The Use of Force law is very easy to understand if you simply read them and try to understand them. They are not overly wordy, easy to understand, and quite clear. Here is a previous article of mine that helps to explain it a bit.
All I can say is good luck to those Judges in Miami who think following the US Constitution is Unconstitutional. But then again they are Judges in Miami of all places.

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