Innocent or Not Guilty?

Why is it that people in this country are “innocent until proven guilty”, but no one is ever found “innocent”? They are only found “not guilty”.


The law was built taking into account that there will be cases in which nothing can be proven. If nobody can prove anything, the accused goes free. Thus, it doesn’t really matter whether someone is found innocent or not guilty, since they go free either way.

Actually, it would be good in some ways if you could be found innocent, if that meant no one would ever believe you were really guilty. So if you got accused of, say, tax evasion, and were so innocent you could convince a jury of that, then no one would ever whisper “that guy almost go nailed for tax evasion” behind your back. Not guilty is okay since you don’t go to jail, but you’re not really absolved in the eyes of a cynical press and public.

But the law recognizes no gray areas. If you’re not proven guilty, you’re as free as if you had never been accused. Innocence is presumed.

Because tis is the way the legal systems in most of the free world are structured, and this is why we stay that way (free, that is). A court of law is not inplace to determine whether or not you are innocent… few people are ever totally innocent, by definition, but it is quite possible to be legally not guilty. Ever hear the term, “Beyond a shadow of a doubt”? Well, a prosecutor has to prove that you are guilty beyond shadow of a doubt to put you in jail (for most crimes, exceptions notwithstanding) but if the defence can throw in a shadow of a doubt, you are found not guilty, but in most cases ae far from innocent. So, you have guilty, or not guilty in between which there is a line, but no gray area. In between guilty and innocent is a gray area so small you could drive a convoy of Mack Trucks with clinical obesity through :slight_smile:

If you can’t dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit.

If you need a graphic solution, http:\\Piglet

stupid slow typing, he beat me to it… Damn you Boris, Damn you to hell… sorry.

One question that doesn’t answer is what the heck was Sen. Arlen “Magic Bullet” Specter talking about when he called the case against Clinton “not proven”. If the case isn’t proven, you find him “not guilty”. He invoked Scottish common law to prove a point about he how he wasn’t convinced either way, but if you’re not convinced either way, you vote not guilty. Did Specter think everybody on the Committee was heartily convinced that Clinton’s innocence had been proven? What kind of trial would that be?

… Maybe he figured the standards were lower when the penalty was getting fired instead of getting sent to prison.

By the way, I get beaten to the punch on answering sometimes, so I deserve at least one “win by a nose”. I’m worth it :slight_smile:

A criminal allegation in the USA does not need to be proved “beyond a shadow of a doubt”. If that were the case, nobody would ever be convicted of anything. All the defendant would need to do to be acquitted is show a possibility that he were not guilty. An eyewitness to the crime might be lying; evidence at the scene might have been planted; DNA tests are wrong 0.01% of the time. Any of these things could cast a “shadow of a doubt” on a defendant’s guilt.

The actual standard is proof “beyond a reasonable doubt.” IIRC, this is defined as the level of proof required to convince a reasonable person that the defendant is guilty. Conveniently, a jury is made up of supposedly* reasonable people. If they can be convinced that the defendant is guilty, then his guilt has been proved by definition.

(*Despite all efforts, some juries end up being populated by unreasonable people. The OJ Simpson jury comes to mind.)

Laugh hard; it’s a long way to the bank.

Aura! You stole my thunder! I’m a Court TV junkie, and was looking forward to explaining “reasonable doubt”. Good job anyway…Grrrrrr!

Oh! I have some more info to give…
In a civil trial, by the way, one only has to be found responsible (as opposed to guilty) by a preponderence of evidence. This is as opposed to "beyond a reasonable doubt. This is why a certain two initialed former football player was held liable (financially) for two deaths that he was found “not guilty” of murdering.

On a somewhat related note, newspapers prefer their reporters to say that someone is “innocent” rather than “not guilty” so things don’t get confused during editing.
“Acquitted” is also pretty popular with newspapers.

I believe there are several errors in the OP:

First of all, they are not"innocent until proven guilty". They are “presumed innocent until proven guilty”. There’s a big difference there.

Second, the question asked why aren’t people found “innocent” rather than “not guilty”. Of course no one is totally pure and innocent, as someone posted, but regarding the specific charge and accusation at hand, it seems to me that “innocent” and “not guilty” are the same thing. In contrast, if the prosecution has failed to prove the charge to the required degree of certainty, then it is wrong to say that “the jury has found the accused to be not guilty.” Rather, in such a case it would be much more accurate to say that “the jury has not found the accused to be guilty.” This is more accurate, and I’d think it would meet all current requirements.

The new change, which I’d like to see, would be that in the rare case where the defense has produced such a strong case that the jury really believes, beyond the required level of doubt, that the accused really did not do it, in those cases, they should be allowed to return a verdict of “innocent” or “not guilty”.


  1. You are not ‘innocent until proven guilty.’ The phrase in question isn’t part of the Constitution, nor is it a phrase with legal meaning. It is a phrase that attempts to state imprecisely the quite true notion in American jurisprudence that you will not be treated as guilty until the fact-finder so finds. Of course, this notion isn’t always applied (note the laws on asset forfeiture), and doesn’t apply to what private individuals may do (your employer can fire you for alleged behaviour, unless the employer is the government).
  1. Not guilty is the legal determination made by a fact finder (usually a jury) because it is the logical alternate to the fact finding the prosecution wants, specifically ‘guilty.’ There being no supposed legal difference between ‘innocent’ (meaning you didn’t do it) and ‘not guilty’ (meaning we can’t prove you DID do it), the fact-finder doesn’t bother with anything beyond ‘not-guilty.’

  2. Each state has different standards for what is meant by ‘reasonable doubt.’ Some still cling to older language about ‘moral certainty’ while others rely totally on things like the doubt a reasonable man would entertain upon viewing the evidence.

Rather than get into an abstruse philosophical discussion of the distinction between ‘innocent’ and ‘not guilty’ you can take the point of view, mentioned on another thread, that a charge is very specific. The jury is obliged to determine whether the accused is guilty or not guilty of the specific charge. E.g., he may have been accused of breaking into 16 different stores and stealing the merchandise found in his garage, but if there is inadequate evidence to convict him of burglarizing Smith’s Sundries Shoppe, he is not guilty of that particular crime, though he is far from innocent.

“Not proven” is a Scottish verdict with some fine implications I don’t claim to understand, but the most obvious point from an American/English standpoint is that, while it is equivalent to “not guilty” as regards the outcome of the trial (the accused walks), it does not, like “not guilty,” preclude a new trial on the same charge. The result is just what it says, the accusation was “not proven.”

BTW, interestingly enough, in the ongoing wrongful imprisonment civil trial filed by the son of Sam Sheppard (the man on whom the show The Fugitive was based), the son is trying for a verdict from the jury that his dad was ‘innocent.’ Apparently, he needs this to meet the legal burden for recovering (I haven’t looked into the law in New York on wrongful imprisonment actions). Obviously, this is a tougher burden than proving his dad was ‘not guilty.’

Scotland is a civil law country. There is no such thing as “Scottish common law”.

Well Desk-
I am going to repeat some of what my other esteemed posters have said.

But the question presented to juries is not is this accused innocent? In which case the two possible answers would be yes and no (innocent and not innocent)…

The question is Is the accused guilty? In which case the answer is yes or no (guilty and not guilty)…

The reason for this is because as you said you must be proved guilty not innocent!

Hope this helps!


I stand corrected. I guess it seems even less relevant if it is civil law, since at least in theory we inherited common law from Britain.

All state courts inherited their Common Law from England – except for Louisianna, whose system of jurisprudence* is inherited from Napoleonic France.

*) I say “jurisprudence” here because it’s a big, important-sounding word.