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November 25, 1974

General Principles of Criminal Law

JAMA. 1974;230(8):1199-1200. doi:10.1001/jama.1974.03240080073041

PRIOR to examination of the specific procedures involved in criminal law, several basic philosophical principles that affect all the proceedings in a criminal case should be noted.

Presumption of Innocence  One basic assumption that is made at all stages of a criminal case is that the accused is presumed innocent until a verdict is given by a jury (or a judge in the case of a nonjury trial). While most persons charged with a criminal offense eventually plead guilty either to the offense as charged or to a lesser one, until such time as the final disposition of the case is made, the "accused" is just that; he is not a "criminal." This assumption is responsible for most of the constitutional guarantees regarding the rights of an accused. The founding fathers who wrote the Bill of Rights wished to ensure that the rights of persons accused were protected, and that