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Witch Hunts, Court of Public Opinion, and Defending the Indefensible.

Captain Adverse

Classical Liberal Sage
DP Veteran
Jun 22, 2013
Reaction score
Mid-West USA
Political Leaning
Libertarian - Left
I often get the question “How can you defend the indefensible,” or in other words “How can you defend an ‘obviously’ guilty person?” But that question assumes that allegations of guilt are automatically true, and a Defense Attorney is always trying to prove someone is innocent.

In our society we have a legal presumption of innocence until proven guilty in criminal cases, and it is the job of the State through a Prosecutor to prove guilt. The burden of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” As a result, the Prosecution will attempt to build a case using available evidence to show beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused in fact committed the crime.

On the other hand, the job of a Defense Attorney is not to “defend the indefensible” by trying to prove someone is innocent; that presumption already exits. Of course if there is exculpatory evidence, that helps the Defense's case. But more often than not the job is to address the prosecution’s evidence wherever possible so as to show alternative explanations/scenarios which create reasonable doubt.

One of the biggest problems facing the Defense occurs when news media report the crime in a sensational way. This is typical of those crimes considered most heinous; like alleged sex offenses, alleged murders and other violent crimes, and alleged “hate crimes” of whatever stripe. News media seek out “angles” of reporting to get the most views. Views sell advertising which pays the bills.

People being people, they love gossip. The more lurid the report the more likely to establish a belief in the guilt of the accused. The more public the story, the more likely members of the jury pool may be tainted. However there are tools officers of the Court can use to try to deal with this problem.

Not so in the Court of Public Opinion, especially when it comes to politics. People’s political bias automatically comes into play. If one is already pre-disposed against the target of media reporting, then it is easier to motivate and maintain animus against that target. There is an acceptance that the target is guilty until proven innocent. Even worse this animus can be increased and perpetuated by reports of target's alleged ongoing evils. Thus the media feeds the bias, the readers continue to come back seeking more confirmation of said bias...and viola!! The cycle of Witch-hunting occurs.

I oppose this cycle on principal. I am on record in this Forum arguing that the public should be skeptical of reports based on either anonymous or politically biased sources when they make allegations of wrong-doing.

When I argue in this Forum in defense of public figures being lambasted in the news and by politicians and pundits for alleged wrongs, it is based on the above rationale. Innocent until proven guilty. This is especially true when I see what is clearly a witch hunt targeting someone for political reasons. Where advocates of presumed guilt use all the tactics of moral panic to demonize both the target and anyone who seeks to defend said target.

It is not that the target has been shown to be factually innocent. No, what remains to be proven is actual guilt. That accusations are merely assertions and not in and of themselves proof of guilt. That everyone should be cautious and watch developments. Wait for a factual ruling of guilt, as opposed to presuming guilt and thereby shifting the burden onto the accused to prove innocence.

One need only consider it in a way I was taught to a long time ago. If YOU were the target, wouldn’t YOU hope to have that benefit of the doubt, and expect the accuser to PROVE your guilt?

I do not support witch-hunts, as historically they are fear-based, uncontrollable, and often turn on some who were originally accusers (ex. #METOO). Thus you will almost always see me arguing “aspirationally” for innocence until proven guilty, even in the Court of Public Opinion. It should therefore come as no surprise that I will provide "alternative scenarios" seeking to create "reasonable doubt," right up unless and until the accused is proven guilty of the alleged misconduct.
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