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The Embarrassment of Innocence
By Spero T. Lappas
Innocence should be the only serious question for the criminal courts. We operate, after all, in a system which enforces a presumption in its favor and which allows any reasonable belief in its existence to preserve it. Innocence is the default state of blamelessness.
Because fine and often exquisite distinctions between innocence and guilt carry with them disproportionate consequences — imprisonment, ruin, and death — the stakes are high for drawing these distinctions with accuracy. Public respect for criminal justice as a whole rests largely on the community’s belief that its guilt finding system has two characteristics: first, that it usually correctly divides guilt from innocence; and second, that when that usual result does not prevail, it fixes its own mistakes. The system is not only reliable but it is self-correcting. If it were not, the conventional wisdom holds, its claim to moral legitimacy would be far more tenuous.
However, as I have written before,1 the current crisis in
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