Presumption of Innocence

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Presumption of Innocence

 

in law, the principle that an accused person is not presumed guilty until guilt has been proved in the legally established manner. The purpose of the presumption of innocence in Soviet criminal procedure is to protect personal rights, ensure the accused’s constitutional right to defense, and guard innocent persons from illegal and unfounded criminal responsibility and conviction. Like any other presumption, the presumption of innocence may be rejected, but only by means established in procedural law and only with the assistance of evidence that is relevant to the case and admitted by law.

The presumption of innocence was first proclaimed in the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen at the beginning of the French Revolution: “Everyone must be presumed innocent until he is pronounced guilty” (art. 9). The principle of presumption of innocence is usually proclaimed in the law of modern bourgeois countries and in bourgeois criminal procedural science. In the court practice of the bourgeois countries, however, a presumption of guilt predominates; this can be seen with particular clarity in the criminal prosecution of progressive figures. Nonetheless, in these countries the presumption of innocence is a means of fighting unsubstantiated accusations when large numbers of working people and progressive public opinion oppose such accusations.

The principle of presumption of innocence is fixed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on Dec. 10, 1948, and in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, adopted in 1966.

Only in socialist criminal procedure did presumption of innocence acquire its true meaning and real substance. The principle is fixed in the criminal procedural codes of Poland (1970), the German Democratic Republic (1968), and other socialist countries. It is found in many regulations of the Basic Principles of Criminal Procedure of the USSR and the Union Republics (1958). According to this document, no one may be officially accused of a crime except on the grounds and in the manner established by law (art. 4); no one may be found guilty and thereby subjected to criminal punishment except on the basis of a court sentence (art. 7); the court, procurator, investigator, and person conducting the inquiry do not have the right to shift the burden of proof to the accused person, that is, accused persons are not obliged to prove their innocence; it is forbidden to attempt to obtain testimony from an accused person by force, threats, or other illegal measures (art. 14); the guilt of the accused person for commission of the crime must be proved during the investigation and examination of the evidence in court (art. 15); the indictment of an accused person does not predetermine the question of guilt (art. 36); and a guilty verdict cannot be based on presumptions and is rendered only if the guilt of the defendant for commission of the crime has been proved during the trial (art. 43).

The principle of the presumption of innocence, that is, the idea that all unremoved doubts should be interpreted in favor of the defendant, was fixed in law by a June 30, 1969, resolution of the plenum of the Supreme Court of the USSR entitled On the Court Verdict. All of these provisions taken together fully ensure the application of the presumption of innocence.

REFERENCES

Teoriia dokazatel’stv v sovetskom ugolovnom protsesse. 2nd ed. Moscow, 1973. Chapter 5.
Polianskii, N. N. Dokazatel’stva v inostrannom ugolovnom protsesse. Moscow, 1946.
Strogovich, M. S. Kurs sovetskogo ugolovnogo protsessa, vol. 1. Moscow, 1968. Chapters 5 and 10.
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