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Are Defendants Really Innocent Until Proven Guilty?

Mar 2, 2008
Open the page of any popular 21st century newspaper and you will see story after story exposing individuals who have been arrested in connection to some crime or other. Uniformly, you will find them treated as guilty before the trial. It is this treatment which ruins the reputations of many upstanding citizens who have the misfortune to be wrongly accused.

We must remember that the mere fact of accusation does not in itself entail guilt; that is not determined until a trial by jury has been conducted. Sadly, this is not a new trend - in fact, as this historical example shows, defendants are treated as guilty more often than they are presumed innocent.

In Los Angeles, in 1909, complaints that defenseless prisoners in the city jail were "man-handled" and otherwise ill-treated drew from the chief of police an assurance that such methods and the administration of the "third degree" would not be permitted ; but the persecution to which Mrs. Laura Sim, wrongfully suspected of having tried to murder Mrs. Staehle, claims to have been subjected discounts considerably the worth of that assurance.

According to her statement, published October 22, 1909, she was arrested Tuesday afternoon, searched, her watch and all her belongings taken from her, thrown into a dark cell and left there until the following afternoon, when she was taken again to the detectives' office. Her account continues :

"They said, 'Well, if this woman dies you can just feel the noose around your neck. In any case we've got you and we're going to send you up for this.'

No matter how many times they asked me to repeat my story I did not change. They said the prints on the window were the same as mine. I reached out my hands and said : 'Here, take as many imprints as you like. These hands are clean of crime.'

They called up some one on the 'phone, and then said that my imprints had been found to be exactly the same as those on the window. When they saw that I did not falter.

They accused me of caring for Mr. Staehle. They were absolutely devoted to each other and it did my heart good to see it. They accused me of intimacy with Mr. Staehle.

I said, 'No. I am a lady and until you can prove me other than one you will please treat me as such.'

Thursday afternoon they took all kinds of imprints of my hand with ink, with powder and with a black powder. They accused me over and over of stabbing my friend. They again accused me of intimacy with Mr. Staehle.

When they found they could not shake my story they released me. It was about 5 o'clock Thursday evening. They said : 'We have conducted this case as carefully and as delicately as we could. We do not want you to be put to any unnecessary notoriety. There is a crowd of newspaper men outside. Walk between us and duck your head, so that they cannot get your picture.'"
About the Author
Malcolm Blake is strongly opposed to cruel treatment of prisoners. He is also concerned with the civil rights of the innocent, and believes that only in an age of openness can we guarantee our survival. His article about the reverse number look up shows how to run a background check.
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