I think we should use "innocent" in court instead of "not guilty"

I believe that for most people, the semantic distinction is little or none. The end result is the same, and with laws against double jeopardy, the person is essentially innocent of the charges and cannot be tried again (with a few exceptions, I know). Whether we call him “not guilty” or “innocent” makes little difference overall and so in the interest of clarity, I submit that 1) we all agree that it is clearer and better to call someone “innocent”, and 2) we start doing that as soon as possible. If rules or laws have to be rewritten, we should do so or all agree that we can play using “house rules” and use the word “innocent” instead

There’s a couple of issues that I’d like to address first, having heard them before.

“It is too hard/time consuming/expensive to change the process now for what is little to no benefits”

I disagree that there is no benefits. The law should be clear and simple when possible, and using words that have similar meanings while an easier and clearer version exists should be the goal. This saves time and money when it comes to the large number of people affected by the legal system who are not lawyers or trained in law. Given my “house rules” provision above, I don’t know if there is actually a law saying you have to use the words “not guilty”, but if there is, its not hard to pass a law simply replacing one instance of that term with a different word. If its simply a rule, then we would save time/money/headaches by simply all agreeing to ignore that one rule. Its NOT like all of us agreeing to violate the law, not at all, this is merely semantics so don’t go overboard with hyperbole please.

“There is a tradition of using the term that we shouldn’t mess with”

Tradition is not good enough an excuse for a bad law or bad rule. Just like we’ve changed the obviously wrong tradition/law about racism towards minorities, and we’re in the process of changing laws about inequality towards the LGBT community, this tradition is one that is oddly specific yet with no real point. Plus, it has the added albatross of being confusing to laypersons. And if we change it, though one can make an argument that it doesn’t harm anyone by existing as it is now, I can make the same argument that calling someone “innocent” after they are acquitted is also harmless. At the very least, there is a stalemate in arguments, “not guilty” is not “better” in any form than “innocent”

“It doesn’t harm anyone to keep it”

Nor does it harm anyone to change it, especially if it was done with voice consent without any change to the lawbooks. Courts can simply declare that we’re going to use the new word from now on and that’s it. And I submit that “legalese”, or confusion for the sake of confusion, is harmful in and of itself. It creates an impression of resistance to change, petty indifference, and elitist self-segregation. I understand sometimes its necessary to have legalese, but in this case I believe it is not

“I’m not confused by that term, you’re just dumb”

Now now, is that any way to argue? My intelligence or lack thereof aside, it is still more confusing to say “not guilty” rather than “innocent”. The use of a negative rather than a positive is an odd choice, and in the english language it is usually secondary to choose to use a negative rather than a positive or neutral term. We could replace both terms with “Innocent” and “Not Innocent” couldn’t we? But for reasons I can’t articulate, it just feels wrong. Why create that confusion where there doesn’t need to be there? “Innocent” and “Guilty” are perfectly acceptable words that should be perfectly acceptable terms

“They’re not ‘innocent’ of the charges, they are ‘not guilty’ because the state didn’t prove them innocent, it was simply unable to prove its case”

This is an argument I hear most often, and honestly, I find it hard to parse. One could easily go with the “innocent/not innocent” argument above to get the same argument, yet there’s no consensus that those terms would be the same. With respect to the results, we could call it “gorp” and “norp” for all it matters, the point is that its a legal term and we can use anything we want. Whatever state we consider a defendant in when found “not guilty” we can assign to the word “innocent” or “norp” if we wanted to. The only reason why this argument exists is because people support it. There’s no objective reason, its just how everyone seems to want it. Therefore there’s no reason that this arbitrary distinction should live on. “Innocent” is as much a valid description for a defendant found “not guilty”, we shouldn’t pretend otherwise to uphold it for semantic reasons

Innocent is something we can never know. But the System can find someone not guilty.

The burden is on the state to prove the guilt of the accused and for the jury to determine if the state proved its assertion. It’s not about the defendant proving his/her innocence. So, for the jury to rule on the innocence of the defendant would be a distortion of what’s going on the courtroom.

Right, the choices aren’t “guilty or innocent”, they’re “provably guilty”, “probably guilty but we can’t really prove it”, “probably not guilty but I guess it’s possible it was them”, and “innocent” and a bunch of little steps in between. Because all the ones to the right of “provably guilty” are pretty open to interpretation, we label them “not guilty”.

Does “not guilty” stigmatize those who are innocent and make people box others into the ones closer to “guilty” than “innocent”? Maybe, but I’m not convinced. And even if it does I’m not convinced that the harm done is great enough to relabel the verdict.

I don’t see how it’s not obvious that “not guilty” is more accurate. The last argument you’re trying to rebut is true and your rebuttal makes no sense to me.

So, what do you think of a “no contest” plea?

Using the term innocent would be actively misleading in many cases.

Take Zimmerman as an example. He was not innocent. Nobody disputes that Martin died at his hand. The state’s job is to present evidence to prove that the facts fit the crime of murder. The courts ruled “not guilty” (of the charge of murder). To call him “innocent” would be a misleading distortion of both the facts and the legal process. He’s not innocent… he’s just also not guilty.

This is also misleading. You can kill someone and still be innocent. Not arguing the merits of this particular case but the fact that someone dies at your hand, from your direct action, doesn’t mean you cannot be innocent of a particular charge, or in general. There’s no point confusing moral innocence/guilt with the legal terms.

Changing the verdict from “not guilty” to “innocent” is the opposite of clarifying things; to the contrary, it muddles the extremely important and fundamental-to-our-legal-system idea that the burden of proof in criminal cases is on the state to prove guilt and not on the defendant to prove innocence. Anything that undermines that (even if only in some minor, indirect, or rhetorical way) strikes me as a bad idea.

The OP seems to be offering a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. The current system works as well as can be expected. Changing the label wouldn’t make things better, just slightly less accurate and informative.

Actually at least some places in the US there already is such a thing as being “found innocent”; I know because there was a local news story years ago about someone who pushed for an “Innocent” verdict and got it instead of the normal “not guilty”. It’s just virtually never tried for much less granted because the standards are so much higher. Which is why it made the news.

And yes, i agree that it’s a useful distinction to make: found not guilty isn’t at all the same thing as being actually innocent, and neither is the same as being found innocent. You can be factually guilty and found not guilty, factually innocent and found guilty, and so on.

If the terms are arbitrary and meaningless, why are you arguing they should be changed?

The reality is that a lot of accused people are not innocent. They committed the crime they were accused of but the state was unable to meet the burden of proof to get a conviction.

As others have noted, our trial system is designed to separate the people who are provably guilty from all of the people who range from probably guilty to genuinely innocent.

Our system of justice is designed such that you are Innocent by default. That is why you can’t be found Innocent because you already are. The burden is on the state to find you Guilty. If they fail, you are found Not Guilty and remain Innocent.

Note none of this speaks of whether you actually committed the crime or not.

Moved MPSIMS --> IMHO.

There’s no way that OJ innocent of murder.

But he IS innocent. That’s kind of the point. The job of the court is not to ascertain whether or not the defendant, in that case George Zimmerman, is innocent, because he already was. It’s a given that the man was innocent, since he hadn’t been convicted.

The only job the court has is to ascertain whether or not someone is guilty. He is or he’s not. Once guilty, he’s no longer innocent, but if assessed not guilty, he remains innocent, as he always had been.

You and I may see little “innocence” in a different sense of the word in George Zimmerman, but as far as the legal system is concerned he’s 100% innocent, as least as far as the Martin killing is concerned - not because they found him innocent, but because they didn’t find him guilty.

One can be not guilty and also be not innocent. Like this guy.

And OJ is a good example- he was found “not guilty” of murder, but liable for a “wrongful death” ina civil suit which has a lower burden of proof than a criminal case.How could he be responsible for a wrongful death if he were found " innocent"?

How about having a third possible result of “not proven” similar to that available to Scottish courts, so:

Guilty: you done it
Innocent: you definitely didn’t do it
Not proven: There’s a lingering doubt that you did it, but we can’t prove it to the standard required for a conviction

To be honest I’m not sure that the third option is satisfactory, so I’m just tossing it in to see what everyone thinks.

Because as a matter of law, it is generally not the court’s job to prove ones innocence. The only question before the criminal court is to determines ones guilt.

Philosophically, it’s a wonderful thing, and there’s no reason to change that.

Noooo, it isn’t. Our system of justice is designed such that you are presumed innocent as a legal matter, and it is the job of the state to overcome that presumption and show that you are guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. It’s a technical legal matter that has not the least bit of interest in your actual guilt or innocence.

Anyway, ‘not guilty’ works fine and properly reflects the burden of proof. Changing this to “innocent” would, even if the burden remained the same legally, tend to undermine the system and shift the burden away from the prosecution–if not to the point of actually placing a burden on the defendant, at least eroding the “reasonable doubt” standard.