Americans Don’t Believe in Innocent Until Proven Guilty

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My writing on this topic may raise some ire, but it’s for a point. Americans have largely flushed down the toilet the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” as expressed in the US Constitution. They are willing to condemn people who have never been convicted and even never tried for a crime with labels such as “child molester” and discuss the ways such people should die with apparent glee. More disturbingly, they are willing to do this without even a shred of evidence against the accused.

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Guilty by Accusation Without Evidence

Take the case of Joe Harvey Jr. of Montgomery, Illinois. He’s been accused and arrested for sexual molestation of his ex-girlfriend’s infant daughter. Here’s the whole sum of the “evidence” (minus the photograph of the accused) by which people are already convinced he’s guilty and deserves death:

(from Bad Illinois Boyfriend accused of sexually assaulting infant)
Man charged with molesting ex-girlfriend’s infant:

Clint Howard’s lookalike over there is one 27-year-old Joe Harvey Jr. of unincorporated Montgomery, Illinois. He stands accused of sexually assaulting the infant of his 20-year-old former girlfriend.

Details are scarce but Harvey is being held on $250K bond.

Thanks to Ridgely for the tip.

There is no evidence mentioned at all, just accusations and reports of government actions. Yet as evidenced by the comments on that blog posting, the public is proclaiming he deserves death without even seeing or reading any evidence whatsoever. Evidently there are many Americans who are so very un-American to jump to such severe conclusions with such little substantiation.

Cases With Published Evidence Before Trial

There are plenty of cases in which the trial hasn’t happened yet but people think the accused is guilty based upon reports of what sounds to be solid evidence. Take for instance the case of Emily McDonald who stands accused of what amounts to attempted murder by repeatedly putting feces in the feeding tube of her hospitalized 3 year old daughter. Mainstream media claims that the hospital has her on video tape doing it and that the police report she’s admitted to the crime. While that’s still far short of a trial, it is at least some evidence that appears on its face to be reasonably incriminating. Talking about such people as possibly being guilty before a trial is more understandable because at least some evidence has been presented.

Now I suppose it could turn out that the hospital faked the video to frame McDonald for hurting her daughter in order to cover up its role in making the 3 year old child sick and failing to provide adequate medical treatment. The police could be lying to cover up for their friends at the hospital, too. It sounds far-fetched and I doubt that any of that happened, but it’s not like citizens should have much faith in government given the pattern of abusive and illegal conduct so common with government agencies in anything to do with child welfare. So I’m not about to opine that Emily McDonald deserves a death sentence without so much as a trial.

By the way, if that hypothetical cover-up were accurate, it seem likely that McDonald’s attorney would push for an expert examination of the videotape, expert testimony about the possibility that McDonald’s confession was coerced, and so forth. Hopefully the reporting on the case will make it possible for the general public to have confidence in the outcome.

Innocent Until Proven Guilty is With Good Reason

I find the public reaction to the accusations against Joe Harvey to be very disturbing because of the extreme lack of any reported evidence. Then again, I also find the crime of which he stands accused to be very disturbing, too.

The founders of the US were enamored of the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” as they already had experience with “guilty by accusation” under British royal rule and found it most unsatisfactory. In today’s culture, far too many people are gullible and believe that people who make accusations of crimes against children wouldn’t possibly lie and therefore the accused must be guilty by accusation. That’s particularly disturbing seeing how easy it is for a malicious person to frame another for child sexual abuse and how government employees will participate in giving false testimony to obtain a conviction.

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Michael Jackson and False Allegations

Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of people irresponsibly tossing around the label “child molester” in regards to Michael Jackson. He was never convicted of any criminal charge, nor did any court decide against him regarding such accusation. I can understand why there was concern about him given published reports of the evidence against him. But he was tried and acquitted on all charges. Furthermore, there are strong reasons to believe that some or all of the accusations against him were motivated by greed and malice and that both accusers and witnesses against him had track records of previously lying for their own benefit.

Now that Jackson is dead, some of his false accusers such as Jordan Chandler are reneging on their accusations. Chandler’s family got $22 million out of Michael Jackson for wrongly accusing him of a crime because Jackson decided to settle out of court as his family and attorneys didn’t think his health was adequate to get him through a trial, not because he was admitting guilt. That is in and of itself a crime. But I doubt anybody will ever be prosecuted for it. This outcome should make people wake up and take notice that credibility for claims of crimes against children committed in private with no witnesses and little or no physical evidence should be seriously questioned, especially when the accusers stand to benefit from their accusations.

Conviction in the Court of Public Opinion

I don’t know Joe Harvey Jr., nor do I know anyone who knows him. If he’s found guilty by a court after a fair trial, I’d agree he deserves punishment. But he’s already been found guilty in the court of public opinion and is being punished there, disturbingly without an iota of evidence. For anybody who is frequently around kids (parents, teachers, coaches, etc.) and has run across mentally disturbed and malicious individuals who make false allegations for their own benefit, this should be a major concern.

There are some very obvious questions about this case. For one, why would Harvey’s ex-girlfriend leave her daughter in the care of her ex-boyfriend? Doesn’t that seem at least unusual? Especially if he’s not the father, as the reports seem to imply?

Why isn’t there any mention of physical evidence? It is because there is none?

If there is any physical evidence, what are the chances that it could have been caused by another person, not Harvey?

Speculating about this case given the sparse information available and putting it in the context of what malicious people do during a relationship break-up, what are the chances that Harvey didn’t yet know that he was an ex-boyfriend? If so, was his ex-girlfriend’s version of breaking up with him a “breakup by false accusations” stunt?

Here’s how this works:

  1. Harvey sometimes took care of his girlfriend’s child at her request. Everybody was happy with this arrangement, until the girlfriend decided it was time to break up the relationship.
  2. The girlfriend decides she is mad at Harvey and wants to break up, so she leaves her daughter with Harvey as usual.
  3. She retrieves her daughter later, sexually violates her, cleans her up, and then takes her to the hospital. She tells doctors that she gave her daughter a bath and noticed that she was bleeding but she doesn’t know why.
  4. Doctors examine the baby and find evidence of sexual assault. They call police and/or CPS.
  5. Police and/or CPS show up and talk with the doctors and the girlfriend. The girlfriend says “I have no idea how this happened, she was fine when I left her with my boyfriend and now she’s not.”
  6. Police question the boyfriend. He confirms that he was taking care of the baby and that there wasn’t any evidence of a problem with bleeding when he changed her diaper.
  7. Police get an arrest warrant and return to arrest Harvey.

If this is what happened, poor Joe Harvey is basically up the creek without a paddle despite being innocent. He has no witnesses to confirm he didn’t do anything wrong, the baby is too young to speak, the girlfriend hates him and has already lied to get him in trouble, and public opinion is that he’s a guilty man because most people don’t have experience dealing with somebody as malicious as his now ex-girlfriend.

If it turns out that the above version of events is what happened, will there by anybody calling for the death penalty for the girlfriend for sexually abusing her daughter? Or will her crimes just be brushed under the carpet and excused because she’s mentally ill? My guess would be the second of the two as Western societies frequently excuse criminal conduct by women when it involves false accusations against a man. If they punish for it, it usually is at a fraction of the sentence as what the falsely accused man would have suffered if he was wrongly convicted:

(from Four-Month Sentence for False Rape Claim)

Michaela Lodge, of Braintree, UK, was living with her estranged husband and two children. She also had a boyfriend. It seems the whole situation confused her, what with the competing demands of husband, lover and children. So, in order to get him out of her life for good, she instigated sex with her husband and then went to the police complaining he had raped her.

He was arrested, held for 12 hours and ordered to stay away from his kids for three months. That was all last November. In February, Lodge wrote her husband a letter apologizing for fabricating the entire story. He was never charged with rape, for reasons this article doesn’t go into (Daily Mail, 7/2/09).

Lodge has just been sentenced to four months in jail for “perverting the course of justice.” The sentence came despite an appeal for leniency by Mr. Lodge.

The judge, in handing down the sentence, stated that false rape claims make it more difficult for real rape victims to come forward and be believed. Apparently the idea that this was a crime, not against some hypothetical other woman, but against a man, and against the system of police and courts, didn’t register with the judge. If it did, he didn’t say so.

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False Accusations are Far Too Common

Even though this doesn’t appear to be a child custody case, the statistics regarding false child abuse allegations in such cases clearly show that people will make such allegations knowing they will hurt another person.

(from False Accusations of Child Abuse)

Historically, parents who complained of false accusations were ignored. However, recent studies illustrate how common false allegations are. In Ontario, an analysis of child abuse allegations in the Ottawa area revealed that 60% of accusations of abuse were related to marital breakup, and in two thirds of those cases there was no evidence of any abuse.

False child sexual abuse allegations are particularly damaging, probably more so than any other false criminal allegation.

(from The Nuclear Option: False Child Sexual Abuse Allegations in Custody Disputes)

While national statistics reveal that the majority of all child sex abuse reports are legitimate, when such claims are made by a mother in the context of custody litigation, an estimated 77% of allegations are determined to be unfounded (Tong, 2002). A false child sex abuse allegation made during child custody litigation is a destructive legal stratagem.

Throughout the world, child sexual abuse is considered the ultimate crime. Not even murder generates the kind of raw emotional reaction that results from the sexual abuse of a child. Society acknowledges the innocence of children and responds to child abusers with extreme prejudice. The power of the accusation alone is often enough for public opinion to impeach the character of the alleged child abuser and guarantee legal victory for the mother. According to Jeffery M. Leving (1997), a leading father’ rights attorney, “the use of false sexual abuse allegations to win custody suits has become almost a standard tactic among disturbed mothers and unethical divorce lawyers” (pg 148).The accused may spend years rebuilding his reputation from the monumental damage caused by the accusation.

False child sexual abuse allegations made to break up a relationship are even more damaging than false allegations of rape, and like false rape allegations they may be made by people with personality disorders to gain attention, control, or vengeance over another as explained by Dr. Joseph Carver:

(Why Would a Woman Falsely Accuse Someone of Rape?)

Emotionally unstable or Personality Disorder individuals (see my introduction to personality disorders) may use false accusations of rape to gain the attention of a partner. This is one of several extreme strategies they hope will actually improve a relationship by legally forcing the accused individual to interact/talk with them. In this dysfunctional relationship strategy, the accuser has a fantasy that the extreme act will somehow prompt a positive change in the relationship (it doesn’t!). Other examples of these strategies include faking pregnancy, theatrical suicide gestures, and faking a serious or terminal illness. False accusations of rape are almost always an extreme strategy of some kind with a reason that is specific to the individual or the situation.

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Avoiding False Accusations

As Dr. Carver goes on to say, people with personality disorders are are responsible for a lot of false accusations against others. To help protect ourselves from such false accusations, we must learn how to identify people with personality disorders.

It’s very unfortunate that psychology education is totally lacking in most American schools. The few people who get any training in psychology are those who decide to study it or a related field during their educations after high school. This is a big mistake as it leaves the vast majority of Americans almost completely defenseless and easily victimized by false accusations if a personality disordered individual in their lives decides to target them for ruination.

Whether or not that is what happened to Joe Harvey, we may never know. But tragically, it could happen to you or somebody in your life. And maybe you or that person will end up as the next Joe Harvey, convicted in the court of public opinion with no recourse. The next time you read about one of these cases of alleged abuse or rape with minimal evidence, keep that in mind.

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Further Reading

Los Angeles DA Must Prosecute Wanetta Gibson for False Rape Allegation Against Brian Banks

Tonya Craft’s Ex, Parental Alienator Joal Henke, Shows Kids Will Lie About Sexual Abuse To Hurt Target Parent

Death by Divorce? Fire, Custody Dispute Yield Death Sentence

Father Imprisoned 20 Years on Fake Child Sex Abuse Charges

Bad Mom Feeds 3 Year Old Her Own Feces from Diapers

Man Falsely Convicted of Child Sexual Abuse Awarded $2 Million from New York State

Man charged with sexually assaulting infant

Bad Illinois Boyfriend accused of sexually assaulting infant

Jordan Chandler Admits He Lied about Michael Jackson

False Accusations of Child Abuse

The Nuclear Option: False Child Sexual Abuse Allegations in Custody Disputes

Why Would a Woman Falsely Accuse Someone of Rape?

Personality Disorders: The Controllers, Abusers, Manipulators, and Users in Relationships

  1. July 6th, 2009 at 14:34 | #1

    Thank you for writing this article. I am involved in the movement to reform our criminal justice system, and wrongful convictions are a major issue. Look at all the DNA exonerations — over 200 now, with over 130 from death row. Those cases are just the tip of the iceberg, because the innocence projects have so many requests they have to “triage” the cases — working only on those who have exhausted all appeals, where DNA is available, where the person is on death row, etc.

    One of the most important things each individual citizen can do is to actively presume innocence. When others start to talk or post about someone’s presumed guilt, remind them that the presumption of innocence is at the foundation of our criminal justice system, and of our democracy.

    Research by Seton Hall law professor D. Michael Risinger indicates that 3.3%-5% of those convicted of crimes are factually innocent. With over 2.3 million Americans incarcerated (in prison or jail — that’s 1 out of every 100 adults) — if it is 5%, that’s over 100,000 innocent in prison.

    Those who value justice demand that the criminal justice system apply the lessons to be learned from the many cases of wrongful conviction, and support policy initiatives that:

    1. Raise the accuracy rate in judgments of guilt and innocence.
    2. Resolve credible post-conviction claims of innocence.
    3. Remedy the tragic impact of wrongful convictions.

    For those who are guilty of crimes, we support enlightened approaches to incarceration that nurture genuine rehabilitation and reintegration of productive citizens whenever possible.

    We are forming a national coaltion, having just staged a march in 18 states on June 27. Join us at .

  2. Kathleen
    July 16th, 2010 at 13:07 | #2

    I am currently going through this issue right now. I was wrongly convicted of 22 felonies in the Federal Court system. Not only did the prosecutor put false information in front of the jury for the indictment, they also issued a search warrant on my home which took all of the evidence to prove my innocence. Which of course those documents were locked away and not available for trial. The agents in the case also knew I was innocent. When they testified they said they did not do a thorough investigation, they only listened to the individuals to made the complaints and received the documentation from the individuals. The government threw about 1000 pieces of paper together to make the case even more confusing.

    They never even came to speak to me. I begged my attorney to tell them I want to talk to them because they are going after an innocent person and the prosecutor said he was not interested if I was not going to plead guilty. I never got to tell what actually happened so they could investigate and see I was not the person they should be prosecuting. The prosecutor also gave documentation that certain evidence was present and it was not.

    This whole issued stemmed from me leaving an abusive ex-husband who is a police officer. He just keeps harrasing me and no one will help me. He got custody of our children and now he won’t let me see them even though I have visitation rights and I have to pay child support but every job I get he gets me fired.

    I was sentenced to 5 years in a fedeal prison and I am very disheartened. My appeal was filed but my attorney resigned as my appeal attorney and the judge has not assigned me a new attorney and I should be receiving my reporting papers.

    This has not been fair to my current husband, my four children, or myself. But no one seems to care. All because my ex-husband is an abuser and still will not leave me alone and is jealous and does not want to pay child support. There is tons of evidence in the courts where I live but my ex always finds people where he works to aid him in what he does to me.

    Is their any hope? What do I do?

  1. October 30th, 2009 at 18:32 | #1
  2. January 18th, 2010 at 18:46 | #2
  3. March 11th, 2010 at 02:15 | #3
  4. March 18th, 2010 at 18:48 | #4

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