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Innocent until proven guilty

The United States legal system, as implemented in California and all other states, has at its core the presumption of innocence. In the eyes of the law, every defendant is innocent until proven guilty. This provides protection against unjust accusation and trumped-up charges -- the burden of proof rests squarely with the prosecution, and to obtain a conviction, the prosecution must provide sufficient evidence to prove the defendant committed an unlawful act.

While civil cases generally require only a so-called "preponderance of evidence," a criminal trial requires that the guilt be proved "beyond a reasonable doubt." To obtain a conviction, the prosecution must allay all doubts the judge or jury may have, eliminating all other possibilities regarding what actually transpired, and definitively prove the allegations. This approach to jurisprudence is designed to prevent unjust convictions and minimize the possibility that an innocent person be found guilty.

Because the burden of proof is dependent on the prosecution, the defendant need not even say a word in his or her defense to be found not guilty. This right to refrain from testifying is generally referred to as "pleading the Fifth," due to its codification in the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. Juries must be reminded that a defendant's silence is not a basis for an assumption of guilt, since an individual may choose to remain silent for many different reasons.

Even with all the safeguards built into the system, however, it may be essential for a defendant to obtain the representation of a criminal defense attorney. An attorney may be able to help the defendant construct a strong defense strategy as well as provide valuable advice regarding how or whether to testify in the courtroom.

Source: Findlaw, "Criminal Procedure FAQ", December 02, 2014

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