Determining Guilt or Innocence Before the Trial

Determining Guilt or Innocence Before the Trial

© David Burton 2013

Trial by media

     It seems to me that the English and American concept of a trial by jury meant that guilt or innocence of the accused would be determined by a jury of one’s peers after all evidence for and against the accused was presented. While the American system of justice presupposes innocence, it does not mean that one is innocent. It simply means that guilt must be proven during the trial. The determination of guilt or innocence awaits the conclusion of the trial and the verdict by the jury.

     This concept appears to incomprehensible to a number of people in this country. We see, read and hear about people proclaiming the guilt or innocence of persons on trial (and also their victims) before a trial even begins and before all of the facts in the case become known. Such behavior smacks of gross stupidity, ignorance, prejudice, and/or a total disregard/disdain for the English/American concepts of justice and law.

     Consider the case of the accused Boston Marathon Bomber, Dzhokhar (Jahar) Tsarnaev. The evidence against Tsarnaev is overwhelming, and includes his confession on the boat where he was captured. Still, under American law, a trial to legally determine his guilt or innocence is in order. The irrational rantings of his mother that he was framed by the American government can be excused, but the protestations of innocence by thousands of others are inexplicable.

     “A Facebook group proclaiming 19-year-old Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar (Jahar) Tsarnaev to be innocent now has more than 17,000 members - and it has been growing by the day.
      - - -
     "’We truly believe he has been set up and that there is not enough evidence to incriminate him,’ the group says.
     “The Facebook group, which had 12,000 members {right after the bombing}, is just one place where supporters are proclaiming that Tsarnaev is being framed. . . . Twitter . . . is being used to rally support, while another Facebook group asserting Tsarnaev's innocence has nearly 4,000 ‘likes.’
     “There is no single argument being made by Tsarnaev's supporters. Some are claiming that he is the victim of a massive government conspiracy, possibly as part of a ‘false flag’ operation, while others are grounding their support in something far different: ‘Is it just me or does anyone else think {J}ahar is kinda cute?" (One teenage girl can be seen showing off a ‘Free Jahar’ bracelet.)
      - - -
     “One supporter suggested that Tsarnaev, who officials say has confessed his culpability in the attacks, is guilty but should go free anyway. ‘He should be freed because he's a 19 year old boy brainwashed by his brother & has a future ahead of him & doesn't deserve to die .’” (Ref. 1)

     From what planet do these apparent idiots come? The Tsarnaev trial hasn’t even begun and he’s innocent. “The government has set him up” – a claim with no credibility or supporting evidence. “He’s kinda cute” – so he must be innocent. “The poor boy is only 19 years old” – never mind the 4 dead people he’s accused of murdering or the 200 or so that were injured and maimed for life. Never mind waiting for all the facts – both for and against - to be presented. Those proclaiming Tsarnaev’s innocence are really saying ”Don’t confuse us with the facts!” It’s nothing but a lynch mob mentality in reverse – and it’s the type of mentality that has no place in a free society like America.

     In the case of the George Zimmerman shooting of Trayvon Martin, the sides were drawn early and the judgment of guilt or innocence was all too often made long before the trial and well before the factual evidence was made public. Unfortunately, many who prematurely decided upon guilt or innocence did so on the basis of racial prejudice. Many blacks and their supporters decided on guilt based upon the fact that Zimmerman was white and Martin was black. Too many whites and their supporters decided upon innocence for the opposite reason.

     Consider some of the following comments that appeared well before the trail got underway. First, there is the Zimmerman is guilt point of view.

     “I always see GZ {George Zimmerman} supporters talking about niggers, monkeys, apes, welfare recipient this, food stamp collector that - - -
     “GEORGE ZIMMERMAN IS GUILTY GUILTY GUILTY. POINT. BLANK. PERIOD. The killing of 17 year old unarmed Trayvon Martin could have been avoided but GZ took the law into his own hands which is why he's in trouble now. . . . This monster is a danger to society and he needs to be locked away to protect others and thats why we support him being charged.” (Ref. 2)

     On the other side, we have the following:

     “Zimmerman is guilty only of defending his life when put in peril by a black teen, bent on violence, who clearly bit off more than he could chew.
     “. . . {Whites} are becoming racially awakened by the event and the very palpable anti-White bias demonstrated by the media. Of course, they tried to backpedal, and pander to the vast majority of citizens who are not violent, black thugs, when things became more problematic - but, far too late. Well done, . . . Zimmerman is guilty only of defending his life when put in peril by a black teen, bent on violence, who clearly bit off more than he could chew.” (Ref. 3)

     Was presumption of guilt or innocence prior to the Zimmerman trial racial in nature? Consider the following from April 12, 2012, well before the start of the trial.

     “According to a new Gallup/USA Today poll, 51 percent of Black people said Zimmerman is ‘definitely guilty,’ while only 10 percent of White people believe he’s guilty.” (Ref. 4) Remember, that in April of 2012, the Zimmerman trial had not begun and no evidence had yet been formally presented – still, people had already decided on the verdict and their decision was very much race-based.

     When the law is broken, our judicial system provides all Americans with an opportunity to have presumed innocence – unless you’re Aaron Hernandez.

     Hernandez is the new England Patriot star tight end who stands accused of murder. In Hernandez’s case, it seems that “there’s no reason for a trial to even take place – in the eyes of the American public, the ousted Patriots’ star is dead to society and guilty of first-degree murder.
      - - -
     “No one is willing to honor Hernandez’s presumption of innocence. It seems that most have the football player already hung out to dry.
     “Immediately following Hernandez’s arrest, the New England Patriots cut ties with the All-Pro tight end. They said they came to that decision because they did not want any team employee to be someone involved in a murder investigation.” (Ref. 5)

     The court of law and the court of public opinion are two very different things. In the court of public opinion, Aaron Hernandez has already been found guilty by many. “The longer damning evidence continues to surface linking Hernandez to Odin Lloyd’s murder, the less likely it will be for the 23-year-old to find an impartial jury . . . Impartiality is an impossibility in high-profile criminal trials in the day and age of twitter and facebook. People are told something and, as a result, they form an opinion or belief.” (Ref. 6) In essence, people, all-too-frequently, decide a person’s guilt or innocence even before the trial takes place. A presumption of innocence, as required by the American legal system, is unlikely to be the case with Aaron Hernandez. It was certainly not the case with the New England Patriots. Finding an impartial jury will likely prove to be extremely difficult.

     Not only does the public and the media share responsibility for the pre-trial publicity and rush to judgment, but the well is all-too-often poisoned by our public officials. A prime offender in this regard has been the president of these United States, Barack Obama. Most “troubling has been his habit of injecting himself into the criminal justice system with observations concerning the guilt or innocence of individuals before any formal legal proceedings have taken place.
     “Most troubling was the president’s comment early on in the Geaorge Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin case. Mr. Obama used highly personal terms in describing how the shooting of the 17-year old Martin had affected him, saying, ‘If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.’ He continued, “I think every parent in America should be able to understand why it is absolutely imperative that we investigate every aspect of this. All of us have to do some soul searching to figure out how does something like this happen. …’
     “This was a homicide investigation in its earliest stages; could the president have been that clueless about the impact his remarks would have on potential jury members tasked with sorting out Mr. Zimmerman’s guilt or innocence?
     “We should have seen this coming. In July 2009, just six months after taking office, the president told the world that police in Cambridge, Massachusetts had ‘acted stupidly’ in arresting Henry Louis Gates, Jr. – a prominent African-American scholar – at his Cambridge home after reports that Mr. Gates and a friend were observed trying to force open the front door.
     “- - - The president acknowledged that he did not have all the facts but decided to interject himself into the case anyway. - - -
      - - -
     “There’s more. The New York Times reported last week {Week of July 12, 2013} that the president’s recent comments about the problem of sexual abuse in the armed forces have compromised at least dozen prosecutions and, in the view of military experts, were certain to complicate almost all sexual assault prosecutions in the military.
      - - -
     “According to the Times, judges and defense lawyers have complained that Mr. Obama’s words as commander-in-chief amounted to ‘undue command influence.’” (Ref. 7)

     Trial by tabloids, or more generally trial by media, refers to when media outlets create a widespread perception of an individual’s guilt or innocence through the release of prejudicial material. In a society which can now be described as media-saturated, with the accessibility of the internet and broadcasting of 24-hour news channels, the potential for prejudicial pre-trial publicity is greatly increased. The sensationalism that frequents today’s media has severely threatened the judicial system’s ability to render an unbiased verdict in many cases. All too often, people decide on the guilt or innocence of the accused long before the actual facts are presented at trial. If that person turns out to be a juror, injustice can be the result. [8]

     Guilt or innocence must be decided by an unbiased jury of one’s peers after a fair trial in a court of law. Prior to and during the trial, our judicial system requires a presumption of innocence on the part of the accused. It is up to the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty. Adverse pre-trial publicity and media bias are inimical to the American system of justice – freedom of the press should not foster a lynch-mob mentality in the public. Unfortunately, we here in America are increasingly seeing the opposite of all this. It’s time to bring fairness and rationality back into the American trial process.


  1. Thousands online proclaim: Jahar Tsarnaev is innocent, Brian Montopoli, CBS News, 25 April 2013,
  2. Stop the RACIST George Zimmerman Supporters: Sign this petition to stop the RACISM that GZ supporters throw , Yoshii Hue,, Accessed 15 July 2013,
  3. Trayvon Martin: Opposing Views Forum ,, 12 August 2012.
  4. Gallup/USA Poll: Whites Overwhelmingly Believe Zimmerman is Innocent, Newsone Staff, NEWSONE for Black America, 6 April 2012.
  5. Why is Aaron Hernandez guilty until proven innocent?, Casey Gisclair, Tri-Parish News, 6 August 2013.
  6. Innocent until proven guilty?, Joe Fortenbaugh, Yahoo! Sports, 21 June 2013.
  7. Obama Unbound, Editorial, The Jewish Press, 19 July 2013.
  8. Guilty or innocent? Let the courts decide , Katie Sambrooks,, 9 August 2013.


  10 October 2013 {Article 179; Undecided_31}    
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