What Does “Not Guilty” Really Mean?

The media constantly confuses the term “not guilty” with innocent. I’ve read many times in the media that a defendant plead “innocent.” Actually, not guilty means something other than innocent.

So what does not guilty really mean? It means the prosecution has not proved their case. It could be that the defendant was actually innocent. But, as we all know, lots of innocent people have been convicted of crimes. You have no further to look than the victims of the late Judge Thomas Maloney , who took bribes in murder cases. He had to cover for his criminality by convicting innocent people who did not pay him a bribe. Some of Maloney’s victims are still in prison awaiting a determination of their fate by a neutral judge  and the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. In the last 15 years or so over 30 falsely accused and convicted persons have been released after years in prison, even though confessions were obtained from them, because of DNA evidence. Others have been released because an eyewitnesses who testified at trial came forth to testify that the police had strongly suggested the identity of a suspect when the witness was not sure. I had one such case where a victim of an armed robbery was shown a series of 6 pictures, commonly called a photo line-up. In the police report, the officer said the witness “tentatively” identified my client. That rung a bell with me because “tentatively” means not sure. So during cross-examination I took a chance and asked how many people  the witness identified before he identified my client. His answer was 4. So my client was the 5th person identified in the photo line-up out of 6. Each time the officer told him to pick again, until he chose the person the officer believed was the perpetrator. Then the victim was instructed to make a positive ID in court. Needless to say, my client was found not guilty. I digress. I guess that I just got caught up in story telling.

So, “not guilty” really means that the prosecution has not proved the accused guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. As for reasonable doubt, please read an earlier post of mine.

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