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The Big Lie In Hartford

Richard Brodhead: Misunderstanding the Presumption of Innocence

The presumption of innocence is a legal doctrine that applies at trial.  Jurors are supposed to presume that the person before them who has been charged with a crime is not guilty.  It is up to the prosecutor to rebut this presumption.  It's easy to think of this way: We presume a person is innocent until the prosecutor proves otherwise.

In a recent statement, Duke President Richard Brodhead said that his handling of the Duke lacrosse scandal has been guided by this principle: "[O]ur students had to be presumed innocent until proven guilty through the legal process."  Did Richard Brodhead presume the Duke lacrosse players were innocent? 

When the students were charged with rape, he immediately prohibited them from returning to Duke.  He cancelled their entire team's lacrosse season.  He fired their coach.  Is punishment before conviction consistent with the presumption of innocence?

Several months later, after substantial evidence showed the players were almost certainly innocent, Brodhead (through an intermediary) invited the students to return to campus. 

How is punishing  someone before they are convicted consistent with a respect for the presumption of innocence?  How is lifting that punishment only after substantial evidence of innocence is revealed consistent with a respect for the presumption of innocence?

Brodhead presumed the students guilty.  It was only afer the students proved their innocence that he lifted their punishment.

The disconnect between Brodhead's words and deeds are striking.  The only question now remaining is whether Brodhead is a liar, or whether he simply lacks a first-grader's understanding of the presumption of innocence.