Commitment to the Presumption of Innocence
The criminal punishment system dehumanizes and inflicts trauma on individuals, overwhelmingly those from Black and brown and low-income communities, throughout every level of the process, starting at a person’s arrest. The system begins imposing punishment long before a finding of guilt or innocence, undermining the supposed guarantee of the “presumption of innocence.”
There are considerable burdens placed on people accused of crimes before a trial has even taken place. Even more so if their liberty is taken or restricted though remand to jail, unattainable bail conditions, or pre-trial supervision. If incarcerated, a person is likely to experience physical and mental traumas resulting from the racist and oppressive environment in jails, and disruption of such things as employment, housing, treatment, connections with loved ones, and education. If released, individuals still face mental and emotional stress due to racist and dehumanizing treatment in court, and their lives are disrupted when they are forced to come to multiple court appearances that can easily span years. This can lead to financial burdens, such as loss of income or employment, and childcare and transportation costs. These burdens not only affect the general well-being of accused people and their families, but also affect their legal decisions, as many plead guilty because doing so outweighs the hardships of fighting a case over a long period of time.
We demand that the DA’s office view these burdens not as small inconveniences or deserved punishment, but instead as serious adverse and potentially long-lasting consequences in people’s lives. Therefore, we ask that the DA maintain the presumption of innocence for all defendants, particularly by permitting their freedom during the pretrial phase, not requiring them come to court for non-essential appearances, and calling them by their names and proper pronouns in court, in front of juries, and in all court papers. The DA should provide early or at least timely discovery (evidence in support of the charges) and provide it in full.