The Battle of Presumption of Innocence With Public Censure

Shweta Menon

In principle, if not internationally, the presumption of innocence is acknowledged as being one of the fundamental concepts of the justice system. Its prominence as a foundation for a fair trial across all global and domestic conventions on fundamental human rights demonstrates this. Despite this obvious robust attitude, it is clear that both practically and procedurally, the presumption of innocence is imperiled. Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights codifies the presumption of innocence as a basic premise of judicial adjudication. The implementation of this concept nevertheless, may in reality be irregular, or in certain circumstances significantly absent. For instance, various actors participating in criminal prosecutions are frequently vulnerable to leaks of classified details concerning continued investigations that impact the implementation of the presumption of innocence and continuing investigations, sometimes even before the defense gets this information. In the Sushant Singh Rajput case, the Bombay High Court ruled that a person suspected of a criminal offense cannot be dehumanized, defamed, ridiculed, or smeared by the media while the matter is still being investigated. In other words, meddling with “the administration of justice” is obstruction of justice and this can take place even if the situation is simply being investigated by the authorities.

The notion that presumption of innocence should be designed as a safeguard against unwarranted penalty and state intervention before a judgment is passed does not change but has a strong historical significance[1]. For example, issues concerning government participation with proceedings, the cruel tactics employed in particular prosecutions, which also might result from strategic gain or prejudices, are essential to examine.

One perspective is that if it is an extremely essential notion that the accused is innocent unless proven guilty, it is largely a juridical premise. This implies that this really pertains to the justice system and also to the procedure in which someone is convicted of a felony[2]. If a person is now to be punished by law [from penalties to imprisonment to execution], he or she can be deemed innocent until proven guilty. The prosecution has to be responsible to prove the guilt of the accused and not the defendant proving his or her innocence without probable cause[3]. But publicly condemning a suspected rapist ought not to be governed by the very same concept[4]. Furthermore, it rests upon some sort of debate, in which I will ordinarily oppose the legal and social dissolution. For instance, I cannot embrace the ludicrous claim that women, LGBTQ+ and colored persons have accomplished full equality on the grounds of the abolishment of so many judicial inequalities, because this is subverted through chauvinistic, white-supremacist, and heteronormative laws of prolonged structural injustice[5]. Secondly, public censure and disagreement in my opinion are not the entire stories, there are always going to be exceptions to any legal provisions regardless of the momentousness of the same.

Societal repercussions including the interpersonal or occupational shunning, the termination, and provisional withdrawal of government roles are more significant than public censure and therefore can elevate the repercussions for the guilty to official retribution. It does seem to be unreasonable to suggest that implementing societal punishments of this type doesn’t quite condemn the guilty in the manner a judiciary would. The nation demands more than just stating that innocence is a legal principle unless proven guilty in court. The truth is that when scrutiny is focused on a specific individual, many participants in the judicial system believe that the accused is “likely guilty.” The police are more inclined to seek evidence that might acquit the suspect if the defendant is presumed innocent, rather than merely incriminating evidence, if the suspect is presumed guilty. Second, seeing individuals as “likely guilty” makes it simpler for cops to “justify” intimidating or even physically abuse, increasing the risk of wrongful convictions. Mandating authorities to treat individuals as “likely innocent” makes such actions less common.

I believe it is predicated because of defective judicial procedures and the mindsets of the people today who are complicit in rape, sexual harassment, and abuse, that defense of public censure and the societal consequences is standard and thus overrules innocence until proven guilty. I suppose that in cases of sexual assault and crimes against women the assumption of guilt is warranted due to the system of rape and its misconceptions. Such as, if someone becomes extremely intoxicated, it would be their own fault if they are sexually assaulted. They should have stayed out of risky situations or even that wearing tight clothing encourages guys to sexually assault them, contaminate each phase of the lawsuit from policemen to courts. Due to which rape continues to be a severely under-signified, under-prosecuted, and inadequately penalized felony.[6] In 2019, India recorded over 4 lakh cases. The conviction rate for rape was below 30% in 2018 and 2019. This indicates that just 30 out of 100 cases resulted in convictions. The deeper misconception that bogus claims of rape and molestation are abundant lies at its core. I believe we ought to recall that this is commonly assumed that perhaps the accused is subject to the veracity of a proven fact. To overcome this, I think believing and supporting survivors is essential and the only way to do so in many cases is through public censure of the accused.

The most pernicious assault on the presumption of innocence in the courts, however, does not come from renegade public prosecutors or overzealous officials. Assertation on the applicability of the presumption of innocence outside the court of law strengthens it on the inside. The judicial principle of the presumption of innocence is a juridical framework. The presumption of innocence exists in the contemporary judicial system to shield persons accused of offenses from the legislature’s enormous ability to rob individuals of their liberties. It’s not intended to shield politicians, well-known celebrities, or prominent executives from condemnation for crimes committed by them. In the case of Shakuntala Shukla v State of UP[7], The Supreme Court has decided that after an individual has been charged by the Trial Court, there really is no longer any presumption of innocence, and hence the High Court should be exceedingly hesitant in giving bail to the convicted awaiting appeal whose been sentenced for heinous offenses punishable by death. The case involves the discovery of the dead body of one Kripa Shankar Shukla aka Bajrang Shukla in a well of one Chandramani Pandey. As a result, a case was submitted at the Bansdeeh police department. The authorities, on the other hand, did not conduct a thorough inquiry. As a result, the U.P. Government’s Ministry of Home Affairs requested that the case be investigated by CB-CID. During the Crime Branch inquiry, it was discovered that Jainath Yadav, formerly the Sub-Inspector of Police Station Bansdeeh, under the instructions of the Station House Officer (SHO), examined the instance of the deceased’s death, stating that the deceased had been under the sway of liquor and drowned. On the contrary, no signs of drowning were identified in the post mortem study. During the inquiry, it was also discovered that the Doctor had purposely put the false cause of death in the deceased’s post mortem certificate in order to protect the guilty. It is worth noting that many of those individuals who appear so eager to exploit the presumption of innocence to protect these men were all utterly quiet when the true presumption of innocence is challenged in court.

In essence, the presumption of innocence is a legal precaution designed to ensure impartiality in the courtroom, not an ethical requirement. This is why, even if a self-proclaimed convict’s misdeeds are recorded on camera, we don’t immediately condemn and execute him. Because although guilt is apparent, legal protocols should be performed and the prosecution should establish guilt above a rational possibility. The presumption of innocence doesn’t entail that an individual is free of guilt unless proven contrary. Insisting upon this rigorous applicability of the presumption of innocence in daily situations is an illogical and pernicious gesture of cooperation. Such as, the reality disclosed by that of the Me-Too Campaign and diluting it out in daily situations diminishes its effectiveness as a severe and demanding judicial defense in courts. We should adopt the presumption of innocence and a standard burden of proof past a credible belief. Although, the presumption of innocence cannot be used to ignore rational thinking.

So, what’s the deal with this newfound fixation on using the presumption of innocence and confirmation beyond just a rational doubt when it pertains to allegations of sexual assault, rape, and abusive behavior? It’s all about defending the privileged. It is all about preserving the wealthy elites, those that many believe should be guarded. Several of the very individuals who appear so eager to invoke the assumption of innocence to shield such people have mostly been eerily quiet whenever the true presumption of innocence is challenged in a trial. It is hard to overlook the results of demanding a rigorous level of evidence. Experience demonstrates how this sort of complacent behavior has resulted in inequity, abuse, and significant harm to women and disadvantaged people of society.

About The Author

Shweta Menon is a passionate 2nd-year law student with a knack for the marketing & design fields.  She is pursuing BBA.LLB (Hons) at Symbiosis Law School, Pune.

      References

  1. Francois Quintard Morenas, The Presumption of Innocence in the French and Anglo-American Legal Traditions, 58, The American Journal of Comparative Law, 107, 107-149, (2010). 

  2. M Naughton, How the presumption of innocence renders the innocent vulnerable to wrongful convictions, 2, IJLS, 40-54, (2011). 

  3. SK Assefa, The Principle of the Presumption of Innocence and its Challenges in the Ethiopian Criminal Process, 6, Mizan Law Review, 273-310, (2013). 

  4. James Bradley Thayer, The Presumption of Innocence in Criminal Cases, 6, The Yale Law Journal, 185, 185-212, (1897). 

  5. Elies Van Sliedregt, A contemporary reflection on the presumption of innocence, 80, Revue internationale de droit pénal, 247, 247-267, (2009). 

  6. Rebecca Harrison, The Presumption of Innocence in Sexual Violence Cases, Minerva Access University of Melbourne, (2017), https://minerva-access.unimelb.edu.au/bitstream/handle/11343/130073/Rebecca-Harrison-The-Presumption-of-Innocence-in-Sexual-Violence-Cases.pdf?sequence=1 

  7. LL 2021 SC 422 

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