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Opening Arguments

Burden of proof

If the Indiana Supreme Court is going to make bold decisions like this one, it might risk its reputation as a stodgy old conservative insitution:

The Indiana Supreme Court ruled today that defendants facing murder charges do not need to prove why they should be entitled to bail, according to the Indianapolis Star. This decision overturns nearly 150 years of legal precedent, as the court made its ruling on Tuesday, June 25, 2013.

[. . .]

The case, Loren Hamilton Fry v. State of Indiana, that brought the issue before the court originated in 2011 in Cass County. Murder defendant, Loren Fry, was denied bail by the trial court. The defendant appealed and claimed the state's evidence against him was circumstantial making the presumption of his guilt not strong. According to precedent, the presumption of guilt would be enough in and of itself to disallow bail.

The high court disagreed with the trial court's decision, ruling that "the presumption of innocence must trump." A divided Indiana Supreme Court ruled it was the burden of the state to show that "the proof is evident or presumption strong" that the defendant is guilty and not entitled to bail.

I don't know of a better word than "bold" for something that overturns 150 years of precedent. And it's pretty shocking for those of us who've seen a lot of "Law & Order" and similar shows. Bail? For murder? Stop kidding around there, pal. This is a good illustration of the point, made by the justice who wrote the majority opinion, that "because that's the way it's always been done" is never a good excuse for doing the wrong thing. Never thought I' hear a state Supreme Court justice say that.

It's not like this decision will loose a flood of crazed killers on defenseless Hoosiers. To prevent bail, the state only has to show that the dedfendant "more likely than not" committed the crime, which is a much lower burden of proof than the "beyond a reasonable doubt" required at trial.

A presumption of innocence is the foundation of our criminal justice system once a case hits the courtroom. It never made any logical or legal or moral sense to set that presumption aside for certain defendants. It's one of those "all or nothing" principles.