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A Burden Worth Having
I don’t quite remember what I was doing in Baltimore. Suddenly, through a chain of random events, I ended up in jail for grand larceny. Although I was confident of my innocence, even my best friends testified against me. I found no hope in our judicial system. Fortunately, I could escape that situation. My alarm rang, and I woke up. Others, however, don’t have that option.
Such is the story of Kirk Bloodsworth. In 1985, he was sent to death row accused of killing and raping a 9-year-old girl from Maryland. In 1992, when DNA testing was in its infancy, Bloodsworth pushed for a DNA test to prove he was not the killer. It was not a match. The state of Maryland set him free and paid him $300,000 for wrongful imprisonment.
The government’s burden to prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” the culpability of a suspect is ideal because it represents the recognition, on the part of the government, that our judicial system is not infallible, as Mr. Bloodsworth’s case points out.
When instituted in the late 18th century, the burden of proof was a response to arbitrary arrests for political or economic interests. The government’s decision to enact the burden of proof symbolizes the popular resentment of these violations of liberty. Hence, the principle of “it is better for 10 guilty men to go free than for one innocent man to go to prison.”
The United States has historically promoted the rights of man and liberty. The sentencing of an innocent person not only displays the inefficiency of a government’s judicial system to uphold these values, but also the irreversible damage done to the individual.
The pressure that law enforcement officials face from the public to find closure to cases highlight one reason why the burden of proof is essential in the judicial system. When a police department cannot find suspects to charge for a crime, it is then seen as a failure on its part.
In October, a rally was organized against the death penalty in Houston, Texas. Amnesty International revealed 180 boxes containing unexamined files with vital information about cases involving prisoners on death row. Potential evidence that could lead to the exoneration from death row of these individuals was not taken into consideration during their trials. This revelation demonstrates how law enforcement officials and the judicial system can carelessly make mistakes and why the burden of proof is necessary.
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Liberty is an essential principle of what America is. Our founding fathers wrote in the Constitution: “a person accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty.” Further justification for the importance of the burden of proof is represented by the response of law enforcement officials to Pearl Harbor and September 11. In these two situations, innocent civilians were illegally detained and held without trial because of their nationality or ethnicity. These measures were taken to protect the security of the nation under a state of emergency. Nonetheless, the burden of proof guarantees, at least in theory, that the government would need to present a variety of evidence and facts in order to convict these individuals, something beyond reasonable doubt.
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