Presumption of innocence

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The presumption of innocence is the legal version of the skeptical position that the burden of proof rests with the person making an accusation — or a claim — rather than the person who must refute it.

In other words the law accepts as a null hypothesis that everyone is innocent and only compelling evidence to the contrary can overturn this assumption. It is considered to be a fundamental human right and article 11 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights explicitly states that everyone should have the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

In this sense, a criminal trial represents a formalized process during which the evidence is presented, evaluated and publicly tested. Only if the evidence is found to pass the required tests can the accused be regarded as "guilty". Until this process has been gone through the accused is innocent.

Although the presumption of innocence is declared to be a fundamental human right, it is not always practised, even in first-world countries which supposedly base their judicial systems on this concept. For example, suspects detained at Guantanamo Bay have endured long periods of incarceration without being proven guilty of a crime in a court. Some proposals grounded in feminist thinking also seek to undermine this principle by setting up inquisitorial trials. According to one such proposal, if the prosecutor could prove that a sexual encounter had occurred and the defendant's identity, the defendant would be forced to (somehow) prove it was consensual or be found guilty of rape.[1]