Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Guilty until Proven Innocent

 

The impeachment hearings have been a sham. I won’t list all of the violations of historic protocols, procedures, and assumptions that have been made by the House of Representatives. In the last 50 years, we have seen the abuse of the term “presumption of innocence” in particular. Aside from the overwhelming partisan politics, the confusion has emerged from the government’s inability to determine whether the impeachment process is a political one or a legal one. Unfortunately, this ambiguity has benefited the actions of the Democrats and been damaging to the case of the Republicans and President in particular. There are also far-reaching implications of what I believe to be the Democrats ignoring the presumption of innocence for the country at-large. Let me explain.

First, you might want to decide for yourself whether the presumption of innocence is a legal term or a universal right. One source defines it this way:

Politicians who come under fire for abusing their office do not get a legal presumption of innocence. People only get the presumption of innocence if they are indicted and facing trial for crimes. The presumption of innocence is for criminal defendants, not presidents.

Don’t just take my word for it, consider what the U.S. Supreme Court has had to say: ‘The presumption of innocence, although not articulated in the Constitution, is a basic component of a fair trial under our system of criminal justice.’ The Supreme Court treats it as ‘an element of due process.’

On the other hand, there is this definition:

The Presumption of Innocence is a similar axiomatic standard that cannot be proven but is warranted because it must be assumed in order to maintain the right to personal liberty. When a person is accused of wrongdoing, we begin with presumption of innocence and put the burden of proof upon the accuser. We do this because we understand that liberty is fundamental to a moral landscape and it can only be defended by presuming the right to liberty for all persons.

The point that seems obvious to me is that the hearings can be identified as both legal and political; that a dual identification doesn’t stop the House from determining that the universal definition should apply to the impeachment hearings. But we won’t see that happening any time soon.

In fact, the Presumption of Guilt has been prevalent in high-profile hearings for a long time. One only needs to read the comments of Ted Kennedy about Robert Bork at his hearings for appointment to the Supreme Court:

Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens.

In more recent years, we’ve seen the insulting and highly partisan treatment of Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh in their hearings for consideration for the Supreme Court.

But, you may ask, what do those hearings have to do with the impeachment hearings? I believe that the abusive and highly partisan manner in which those hearings were conducted set the stage and created the climate for the current impeachment hearings.

Democrats realized right after Trump was elected, and even before, that they needed to find him “guilty” of something. They believed that his Presidency was illegitimate, simply because he was the person who was elected. Presumption of innocence was never even a consideration.

Ironically, only “presumptions” were presented by the witnesses at the House Intel Committee impeachment hearings. But their presumptions didn’t even rise to the level of presumptions! Here is a definition of presumption:

A conclusion made as to the existence or nonexistence of a fact that must be drawn from other evidence that is admitted and proven to be true.

Please note that none of those people who provided “evidence” on President Trump’s supposed misdeeds were based on facts or evidence proven to be true. This point is significant because, for one, they were providing assumptions, based on their emotions and their beliefs about what the President should be implementing as policy. To make the point more directly, they were colluding in a hit job on the President. The witnesses were under the illusion that they were the ones who should be setting policy, and that any policy that contradicted theirs was wrong and inappropriate.

The disturbing conclusions we can draw from these actions are as follows:

  • Presumption of innocence is no longer relevant in government hearings.
  • Emotions, experience, and opinions of accusers are superior measurements of a person’s guilt or innocence.
  • Respect for the Presidency and its prerogatives, even as a co-equal branch of government, is threatened.
  • The administrative bureaucracy is colluding with Congress to run the government.

I also wonder if there could be far-reaching concerns for our citizens about presumption of innocence, because if the government is prepared to ignore that axiom in the impeachment hearings, which are a political/legal process and is supported by legal and academic actors, what will prevent presumption of innocence from being ignored in other legal settings? With the current drift toward socialism, will society be subjected to a new premise: the presumption of guilt?

I think we all have reason to be concerned.

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  1. Stad Thatcher

    Susan Quinn:

    The disturbing conclusions we can draw from these actions are as follows:

    • Presumption of innocence is no longer relevant in government hearings.
    • Emotions, experience and opinions of accusers are superior measurements of a person’s guilt or innocence.
    • Respect for the Presidency and its prerogatives, even as a co-equal branch of government, is threatened.
    • The administrative bureaucracy is colluding with Congress to run the government.

    You could add:

    Hearsay testimony is as good as hard facts in government hearings.

    • #1
    • December 9, 2019, at 11:45 AM PST
    • 8 likes
  2. Hugh Member

    How far is too far and there is no way back.

    • #2
    • December 9, 2019, at 11:50 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  3. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Stad (View Comment):
    Hearsay testimony is as good as hard facts in government hearings.

    Actually one of the Reps said that.

    • #3
    • December 9, 2019, at 12:29 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  4. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Hugh (View Comment):

    How far is too far and there is no way back.

    @hugh, I don’t know. We may have already reached that point. Heaven only knows what the next nominee for the Supreme Court will need to go through. And Senator Green said they could charge Trump with impeachment as many times as they need to do it.

    • #4
    • December 9, 2019, at 12:30 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  5. Rodin Member

    “Do unto others as they would do to you.” That used to be guidance for forbearance. Now it has become a justification for actions against someone on to whom you have projected evil.

    • #5
    • December 9, 2019, at 12:43 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  6. PHCheese Member

    Jackson Lee said in the hearing a few minutes ago that Trump she come before the committee and prove his self innocent .

    • #6
    • December 9, 2019, at 12:43 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  7. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Rodin (View Comment):

    “Do unto others as they would do to you.” That used to be guidance for forbearance. Now it has become a justification for actions against someone on to whom you have projected evil.

    But, @rodin, Nancy has reminded us of her Catholic faith. [sarc off] The attitudes and actions of projection are too long to list. Moderation is probably an evil word to them, too.

    • #7
    • December 9, 2019, at 12:51 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  8. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    PHCheese (View Comment):

    Jackson Lee said in the hearing a few minutes ago that Trump she come before the committee and prove his self innocent .

    Yes, she took that from Nancy’s comment 

    “It’s called an inquiry,” Pelosi said on Thursday [before the telephone conversation transcript came out]. “And if the president has something that is exculpatory, Mr. President, that means you have anything that shows your innocence, then he should make that known and that’s part of the inquiry. And so far, we haven’t seen that, but we welcome it. And that’s what an inquiry’s about.”

    I guess the comment is making the rounds again, @phcheese.

    • #8
    • December 9, 2019, at 12:55 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  9. DrewInWisconsin Doesn't C… Coolidge

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):
    Hearsay testimony is as good as hard facts in government hearings.

    Actually one of the Reps said that.

    I think he said it’s often better than facts.

    • #9
    • December 9, 2019, at 1:03 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  10. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    DrewInWisconsin, Type Monkey (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):
    Hearsay testimony is as good as hard facts in government hearings.

    Actually one of the Reps said that.

    I think he said it’s often better than facts.

    Sheesh, I guess we should at least get our facts right! We stand corrected! ;-)

    • #10
    • December 9, 2019, at 1:14 PM PST
    • 1 like
  11. DrewInWisconsin Doesn't C… Coolidge

    Well, I had to look it up to be sure:

    https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/democratic-lawmaker-hearsay-evidence-can-be-much-better-than-direct-in-some-cases

    Rep. Mike Quigley defended the impeachment testimony of two witnesses by asserting that hearsay evidence is sometimes admitted into court.

    Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent and acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor testified in the House’s impeachment proceedings into President Trump on Tuesday. Neither witness has had significant contact with Trump, and almost all of their testimony is based on the accounts of others shared with them.

    “I think the American public needs to be reminded that countless people have been convicted on hearsay because the courts have routinely allowed and created needed exceptions to hearsay,” Quigley, a Democrat from Illinois, said to close his questioning of Kent and Taylor. “Hearsay can be much better evidence than direct, as we have learned in painful instances and it’s certainly valid in this instance.”

    • #11
    • December 9, 2019, at 1:18 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  12. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Reinstitute the Code Duello.

    • #12
    • December 9, 2019, at 1:21 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  13. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    DrewInWisconsin, Type Monkey (View Comment):

    Well, I had to look it up to be sure:

    https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/democratic-lawmaker-hearsay-evidence-can-be-much-better-than-direct-in-some-cases

    Rep. Mike Quigley defended the impeachment testimony of two witnesses by asserting that hearsay evidence is sometimes admitted into court.

    Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent and acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor testified in the House’s impeachment proceedings into President Trump on Tuesday. Neither witness has had significant contact with Trump, and almost all of their testimony is based on the accounts of others shared with them.

    “I think the American public needs to be reminded that countless people have been convicted on hearsay because the courts have routinely allowed and created needed exceptions to hearsay,” Quigley, a Democrat from Illinois, said to close his questioning of Kent and Taylor. “Hearsay can be much better evidence than direct, as we have learned in painful instances and it’s certainly valid in this instance.”

    [Long groan . . . bangs head against the wall repeatedly . . . ]

    • #13
    • December 9, 2019, at 1:22 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  14. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    Percival (View Comment):

    Reinstitute the Code Duello.

    For those who like me have no idea what this is, from Wikipedia:

    “Codes duello regulate dueling and thus help prevent vendettas between families and other social factions. They ensure that non-violent means of reaching agreement be exhausted and that harm be reduced, both by limiting the terms of engagement and by providing medical care. Finally, they ensure that the proceedings have a number of witnesses. The witnesses could assure grieving members of factions of the fairness of the duel, and could help provide testimony if legal authorities become involved.”

    Excellent idea. I have only one caveat: both parties dueling must be Democrats. Because I say so. (That’s what Schiff would say, right–except he’d ask for Republicans.)

    • #14
    • December 9, 2019, at 1:27 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  15. Hoyacon Member

    DrewInWisconsin, Type Monkey (View Comment):

    Well, I had to look it up to be sure:

    https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/democratic-lawmaker-hearsay-evidence-can-be-much-better-than-direct-in-some-cases

    Rep. Mike Quigley defended the impeachment testimony of two witnesses by asserting that hearsay evidence is sometimes admitted into court.

    Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent and acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor testified in the House’s impeachment proceedings into President Trump on Tuesday. Neither witness has had significant contact with Trump, and almost all of their testimony is based on the accounts of others shared with them.

    “I think the American public needs to be reminded that countless people have been convicted on hearsay because the courts have routinely allowed and created needed exceptions to hearsay,” Quigley, a Democrat from Illinois, said to close his questioning of Kent and Taylor. “Hearsay can be much better evidence than direct, as we have learned in painful instances and it’s certainly valid in this instance.”

    Quigley has Rahm Emmanuel’s old seat, so it’s fair to say he knows more about Chicago politics than the rules of evidence. I’m guessing his time at the Loyola University School of Law was not spent on the intracacies of the hearsay rule.

    • #15
    • December 9, 2019, at 1:50 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  16. CarolJoy, Above Top Secret Coolidge

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    DrewInWisconsin, Type Monkey (View Comment):

    Well, I had to look it up to be sure:

    https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/democratic-lawmaker-hearsay-evidence-can-be-much-better-than-direct-in-some-cases

    Rep. Mike Quigley defended the impeachment testimony of two witnesses by asserting that hearsay evidence is sometimes admitted into court.

    Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent and acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor testified in the House’s impeachment proceedings into President Trump on Tuesday. Neither witness has had significant contact with Trump, and almost all of their testimony is based on the accounts of others shared with them.

    “I think the American public needs to be reminded that countless people have been convicted on hearsay because the courts have routinely allowed and created needed exceptions to hearsay,” Quigley, a Democrat from Illinois, said to close his questioning of Kent and Taylor. “Hearsay can be much better evidence than direct, as we have learned in painful instances and it’s certainly valid in this instance.”

    Quigley has Rahm Emmanuel’s old seat, so it’s fair to say he knows more about Chicago politics than the rules of evidence. I’m guessing his time at the Loyola University School of Law was not spent on the intracacies of the hearsay rule.

    I found the hearsay quote one of the most frightening things I have experienced in modern day politics.

    And today’s meme is that perhaps allowing any and all reporting about Trump from the Major Media outlets to be utilized as evidence and entered into the record of the impeachment trial is equally scary.

     

    • #16
    • December 9, 2019, at 2:12 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  17. Percival Thatcher
    Percival Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    Reinstitute the Code Duello.

    For those who like me have no idea what this is, from Wikipedia:

    “Codes duello regulate dueling and thus help prevent vendettas between families and other social factions. They ensure that non-violent means of reaching agreement be exhausted and that harm be reduced, both by limiting the terms of engagement and by providing medical care. Finally, they ensure that the proceedings have a number of witnesses. The witnesses could assure grieving members of factions of the fairness of the duel, and could help provide testimony if legal authorities become involved.”

    Excellent idea. I have only one caveat: both parties dueling must be Democrats. Because I say so. (That’s what Schiff would say, right–except he’d ask for Republicans.)

    It was for @arahant. I don’t know what happened to the sentence that I tagged him in.

    • #17
    • December 9, 2019, at 3:13 PM PST
    • 1 like
  18. Randy Webster Member

    DrewInWisconsin, Type Monkey (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):
    Hearsay testimony is as good as hard facts in government hearings.

    Actually one of the Reps said that.

    I think he said it’s often better than facts.

    IIRC, hearsay is admissible when it’s a declaration against interest, or deathbed testimony.

    • #18
    • December 9, 2019, at 3:27 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  19. D.A. Venters Member

    Great, thought provoking post. I think the presumption of innocence is necessarily a legal concept, which doesn’t have much practical meaning outside the criminal legal system. 

    Insisting on the presumption of innocence outside the legal system would quickly conflict with freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of association. If you refused to hire someone, for example, because they had been charged with a crime, would that deny them the presumption of innocence? After all, you haven’t heard all the evidence. Should there be some kind of legal liability for that? 

    I don’t think the concept can, as a practical matter be enforced in a current impeachment proceeding. Even with a criminal case, you only have the presumption unless/until the jury finds proof beyond a reasonable doubt. But there is no such burden of proof in impeachment, so it’s difficult to know when the presumption ends. 

    The constitutional structure of impeachment makes it political, rather than legal. That said, in fact in part because it is political, the wiser course for an impeaching congress, in such a polarized atmosphere, is to impose on the proceedings some kind of burden of proof and corresponding presumption. 

    • #19
    • December 9, 2019, at 5:29 PM PST
    • 1 like
  20. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    D.A. Venters (View Comment):
    Insisting on the presumption of innocence outside the legal system would quickly conflict with freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of association.

    Thanks for your comment, @daventers. I’m not clear on your meaning in the sentence above. I don’t understand the conflict your suggesting regarding these various freedoms. Could you elaborate?

    • #20
    • December 9, 2019, at 6:36 PM PST
    • Like
  21. D.A. Venters Member

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    D.A. Venters (View Comment):
    Insisting on the presumption of innocence outside the legal system would quickly conflict with freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of association.

    Thanks for your comment, @daventers. I’m not clear on your meaning in the sentence above. I don’t understand the conflict your suggesting regarding these various freedoms. Could you elaborate?

    Sure. For the presumption of innocence to have any meaning, beyond just a rule of etiquette, it has to have some kind of enforcement mechanism. In a criminal case, that mechanism is the burden of proof, proof beyond a reasonable doubt. If an accused is found guilty, or pleads guilty, they no longer have the presumption of innocence (on that charge). Also, the presumption only applies to the jury and the judge. Everyone else is free to presume guilt all they want. If they are not free to presume guilt, then how could that ever be enforced?

    To speak of a universal presumption of innocence, the implication is that there would be some way to enforce it another way. It might not be fair for someone just reading about a case, or an accusation, to presume guilt, but to force that person to be quiet about it, or to ignore the accusation when dealing with the accused, affects their rights. 

    • #21
    • December 9, 2019, at 8:23 PM PST
    • 1 like
  22. Rodin Member

    D.A. Venters (View Comment):
    The constitutional structure of impeachment makes it political, rather than legal. That said, in fact in part because it is political, the wiser course for an impeaching congress, in such a polarized atmosphere, is to impose on the proceedings some kind of burden of proof and corresponding presumption. 

    Although an enforceable rule only in a criminal case, and having little practical affect in private dealings, the presumption of innocence remains an important concept in the impeachment process. It runs to who has the burden of proof — the one making an accusation or the target of the accusation. If you fob off presumption of innocence simply because impeachment is a political process, then mere accusation too easily substitutes the judgment of the House (and its partisan incentives) over the Electoral College. 

    • #22
    • December 9, 2019, at 8:37 PM PST
    • 1 like
  23. Skyler Coolidge

    In the past couple decades the presumption of innocence has been lost in society. The Bill of Rights are meant to control government behavior, but the intent was to make government behavior mirror personal behavior. That is, people were expected to treat people as innocent until proven guilty in their private and public lives, not merely when in a court of law.

    Since the 1990’s per my observation, we have seen more and more times where people insist that the presumption of innocence doesn’t apply to private actions. Most often this claim is made about the worst type of crimes, and usually in connection with issues like hiring and then at universities.

    The presumption of innocence is valuable in a court of law, but its real power comes when the people embrace it.

    • #23
    • December 9, 2019, at 9:22 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  24. namlliT noD Member
    namlliT noD Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Susan Quinn: Guilty until Proven Innocent

    Nope, it’s worse than that. 

    It’s guilty even if proven innocent.

    Susan Quinn: The impeachment hearings have been a sham.

    And that’s the reason why.

    • #24
    • December 9, 2019, at 9:56 PM PST
    • 5 likes
  25. Douglas Pratt Coolidge
    Douglas Pratt Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    It’s a sham. It’s a travesty of a mockery of a sham, of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham.

    • #25
    • December 9, 2019, at 11:03 PM PST
    • 3 likes
  26. HeavyWater Coolidge

    D.A. Venters (View Comment):

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):

    D.A. Venters (View Comment):
    Insisting on the presumption of innocence outside the legal system would quickly conflict with freedom of speech, freedom of thought, freedom of association.

    Thanks for your comment, @daventers. I’m not clear on your meaning in the sentence above. I don’t understand the conflict your suggesting regarding these various freedoms. Could you elaborate?

    Sure. For the presumption of innocence to have any meaning, beyond just a rule of etiquette, it has to have some kind of enforcement mechanism. In a criminal case, that mechanism is the burden of proof, proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

    The framers of our Constitution made it extremely difficult to remove a President of the United States. It requires a simple majority of the US House and a whopping two-thirds supermajority of the US Senate.

    In the Constitution’s 230 year career, not a single President has been removed from office via impeachment and removal. So, perhaps there is no formal presumption of innocence. But the two thirds requirement makes a President near bullet proof.

    Long term, I am more worried that it is too difficult to remove a President, not too easy.

    I am not worried about Trump in particular. Look how easy it was for Obama to create new law out of thin air simply by signing executive orders. The media didn’t care about that, did they?

    Unfortunately, we have a situation where a single human being has way too much power, regardless of whether the President is a Republican or a Democrat.

    • #26
    • December 10, 2019, at 1:44 AM PST
    • 2 likes
  27. Skyler Coolidge

    HeavyWater (View Comment):
    Long term, I am more worried that it is too difficult to remove a President, not too easy.

    I’m not. Recall that although Nixon was not impeached, when it was clear that the Senate republicans wouldn’t support him he resigned. That is the most desirable outcome. Had Nixon not resigned, he would most assuredly been removed. The process worked.

    What we have here is an Andrew Johnson impeachment, except that we already know that there will be no conviction. This is impeachment for political show, trying to create a guilty aura where none exists. Everyone knows that Trump will not be convicted. What the dems don’t seem to know is that two can play this game and the Senate will put the House on trial rather than Trump.

    • #27
    • December 10, 2019, at 4:05 AM PST
    • 1 like
  28. RushBabe49 Thatcher

    No Presumption of Innocence is already let loose on larger society. Proof? “Asset Forfeiture”. People’s lives and livelihoods have been ruined due to State entities confiscating “ill-gotten gains” that were not.

    • #28
    • December 10, 2019, at 6:35 AM PST
    • 7 likes
  29. Stad Thatcher

    DrewInWisconsin, Type Monkey (View Comment):
    “. . . Quigley, a Democrat from Illinois, said to close his questioning of Kent and Taylor. “Hearsay can be much better evidence than direct, as we have learned in painful instances and it’s certainly valid in this instance.”

    “I overheard someone say they were told Quigley eats baby rabbits while wearing women’s underwear, even though there’s no photo of him doing such a thing. He must hide it well.”

    There’s my Democrat-like testimony, just as valid as he says it is . . .

    • #29
    • December 10, 2019, at 6:58 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  30. D.A. Venters Member

    Rodin (View Comment):

    D.A. Venters (View Comment):
    The constitutional structure of impeachment makes it political, rather than legal. That said, in fact in part because it is political, the wiser course for an impeaching congress, in such a polarized atmosphere, is to impose on the proceedings some kind of burden of proof and corresponding presumption.

    Although an enforceable rule only in a criminal case, and having little practical affect in private dealings, the presumption of innocence remains an important concept in the impeachment process. It runs to who has the burden of proof — the one making an accusation or the target of the accusation. If you fob off presumption of innocence simply because impeachment is a political process, then mere accusation too easily substitutes the judgment of the House (and its partisan incentives) over the Electoral College.

    I don’t disagree with this. It is politically wise for Congress to proceed with a certain presumption, and there ought to be a political price to pay for wantonly voting to impeach. 

    However, I think the ultimate reality is that impeachment is a political act. The question before Congress is not whether the president should be imprisoned or fined or should otherwise have liberty restricted; it is whether he ought to remain as president. That is, at its core, a political questi0n, not a legal one. That’s not to say the law has no role at all, as the Constitution does at least have the high crimes and misdemeanors language, but in the end, each member of congress is weighing the evidence on their own scale, with nothing like the instructions that juries get in criminal cases, and trying to decide whether the president has acted in such a way that demands his removal. 

    Members of Congress are ultimately answerable to their constituents (every 2 years!), and that is where the general public has its say on the matter. So again, the rock at the bottom of the issue is political.

    • #30
    • December 10, 2019, at 7:03 AM PST
    • 2 likes