Does innocent until proven guilty mean anything in public opinion?

“Innocent until proven guilty.” We have all said this many times. We have surely heard it many more. But what does it really mean? Has the concept been corrupted by modern day politics and the court of public opinion? In ancient Rome, the presumption of innocence was expressed through the Latin maxim “ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat,” which means “the burden of proof lies on him who alleges, not upon him who denies.”

In the United States, this presumption of innocence has long remained a sacred legal principle in the criminal justice system for over a hundred years. Under this protection, the prosecution has the obligation to prove each element of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. The presumption of innocence has saved many men and women from the injustice of false accusations and from serving time for crimes that they did not commit.


Unfortunately, the court of public opinion today has served as a vastly different outlet for punishment with no presumption of innocence at play, something that Washington operatives have capitalized on in the dirty fights for more political power. Innocent until proven guilty? It now seems a lot more like innocent until proven political in the court of public opinion these days. The minute a political leader is publicly accused of a crime, such as sexual assault, the presumption of innocence that would usually be in the back of our minds is suddenly tossed out the window.

The downfall of someone on the other side of the aisle fits perfectly in the very partisan minds of many Americans. Common sense and independent thinking are thrown to the wind and replaced by cruel judgments, vocal public backlash, and parroting of false information that often stems from political opposition efforts. The elimination of a government figure too often plays into larger political schemes run by Washington operatives.

We do not have to look far for examples of this. Supreme Court Justice Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughGOP leaders go into attack mode against Harris Kamala Harris: The right choice at the right time Trump says Harris was 'my No. 1 pick' for Biden's VP MORE was accused of sexual assault with zero evidence to support the claims and went through a tortuous nomination process because of it. With no presumption of innocence at play in the court of public opinion, he was labeled as guilty on social media and attacked by television commentators and political opponents. His reputation was permanently soiled and irreparable damage was done to the country.

Did these people attack Kavanaugh because they had actual evidence or proof that he was guilty of sexual assault? Of course not. Did his political adversaries truly believe that he was a rapist? I highly doubt it. Instead, what they saw was an opportunity for their side of the aisle to benefit. The truth is that many of his political opponents jumped on the best chance they had to turn the nomination process into an attempt to take down his legal career without looking at the facts or using basic common sense.

After his confirmation, one accuser admitted that “her actions were part of a ploy to take down” his nomination. Innocent until proven guilty? He was innocent until it was proven beneficial for him to be guilty. Crimes, like sexual assault, are not and should never become partisan issues. We should never trust accusers with a blind eye because their accusations are against our political adversaries, just as we should never turn a blind eye to accusers because their accusations are against our political allies.

At the end of the day, justice must be blind. We must always search for truth both inside and outside of our courts. Nobody deserves or would ever want to be treated the way Kavanaugh was treated last fall. With the latest sexual assault allegations now leveled against Virginia Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, I hope people will step back and afford him the proper benefit of the doubt that Kavanaugh was not given. Innocent until proven political could be the new standard, but it does not have to be.

Madison Gesiotto is an attorney and commentator who serves with the advisory board of the Donald Trump campaign. She was an inauguration spokesperson and former Miss Ohio. She is on Twitter @MadisonGesiotto.