One of the hallmarks of the modern legal system is the presumption of innocence – the principle that one is considered innocent unless proven guilty. It is so widely accepted now that it’s part of the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. That is, it’s widely accepted in legal systems; in society, that acceptance is lacking. We see this in the case of national political figures who are expected to resign their positions or withdraw from a nomination process solely on the basis of accusations.

Locally, we see this as well. One local radio talk-show host was shocked by the number of people calling in to say that John D. Williams (the person accused in the killing of Cpl. Eugene Cole) should have been shot on sight rather than captured alive and taken through the judicial process.

Another local example was on Page B1 of the May 8 Portland Press Herald. There was an article about a Westbrook bookshop removing from the shelves books written by people merely accused of wrongdoing. As with Williams, the presumption is that of guilt rather than innocence.

Callers to radio programs and bookshop owners are not part of the legal process and thus aren’t legally required to assume innocence of the accused, but it seems that basic decency would prevail in these cases. Unfortunately, it seems that we have a long way to go in that respect.

Robert Fischer


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