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Opinions of Friday, 23 April 2021

Columnist: Frank Kwesi Hayford

Just because you did it doesn’t make you guilty

Our criminal justice system relies on fundamental principles Our criminal justice system relies on fundamental principles

There are lots of people in prison who wouldn’t have been there if they had a Lawyer.

Our criminal justice system relies on fundamental principles that help preserve our society.

Two of the principles that are particularly applicable in this context are; You are innocent until proven guilty and You are only guilty if the prosecution can prove all elements of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt.

Lawyers are often asked, “How can you defend someone who has committed such an abominable crime?” Simply put, the Lawyer is not defending what the person is accused of doing unless it’s a self-defence case.

The lawyer is actually defending their rights as enshrined in the Constitution. The word guilty has a special meaning in law, different from the way “guilty” is used in our lingua franca.

Guilty in our criminal justice system means that the prosecution can meet the burden of proof. It has nothing to do with what actually happened.

It is important for the general public to understand that “the beyond a reasonable doubt” burden is the ultimate protector of our freedom from the government- both for a person who may have actually done it and one who is totally innocent.

Sometimes, your alleged wrong isn’t even a crime in law as seen in the famous Glah case. Why are you presumed to be innocent until proven guilty? Even God, in Genesis 18, before he destroyed Sodom, sent two Angels to investigate and confirm that allegation. In that same way, the Court holding the trust of justice of the society must enquire into every fact before convicting you.

During trial, the court is also told that if all evidence shows you did it and even just one of those reasonable conclusions points to innocence, they must accept the one that points to innocence. It is a fundamental principle of society that it is better to let 9 guilty men walk than for 1 innocent man to be punished wrongly.

This is evident in Gen 18:23 when Abraham asked God if he will destroy the righteous with the guilty. God was ready to spare the town of Sodom if ten righteous people were found. Better to spare the guilty than to punish the righteous.

In conclusion, Society recognizes the gravity of a criminal conviction, the potential of your rights being curtailed and the fact that it is the whole state machinery against you hence puts a bigger burden on the state in establishing your guilt.

The danger and injustice of wrongfully punishing an innocent man necessitates these principles even at the risk of sparing the guilty.

Don’t go confess your action or inaction to the police/court unless you’ve been advised by your lawyer. Just because you did it doesn’t mean you are guilty.

The writer is a student of Law.

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