The Constitution protects many valuable rights we often take for granted. The 6th Amendment guarantees a speedy trial by jury, with assistance of counsel. The 14th Amendment provides for due process of law which includes the presumption of innocence. You are innocent until proven guilty, a cornerstone of criminal law.
The Supreme Court recently held that Colorado may not require people whose convictions are overturned to prove they are innocent before they can recover any court fees or restitution they may have paid. The legal basis for requiring the payment of money was the conviction. But if the conviction is overturned, the presumption of innocence once again attaches, so people should not have to prove they are innocent to get their money back, the Court reasoned.
The Court weighed three considerations. First, there is a significant private interest in getting one’s money back. Second, the risk of a bad outcome under Colorado’s procedure was great because proving innocence is hard to do and the cost of doing so might be greater than the sum involved. Third, the governmental interest in keeping the money is low because the state really has no rightful claim to it. The third point seems weak and tautological to me, what lawyer’s call a ‘make-weight’ argument.
Notice that the presumption of innocence is not just for criminal cases. Colorado’s refund procedure was civil in nature. As the Court said, “[U]nder the Due Process Clause, [an individual] who has not been adjudged guilty of any crime may not be punished.” Even civilly.
So much for the twists and turns of the case, but don’t lose sight of the big picture: The purpose of government is to protect our rights. The Constitution plays an important role in doing just that. The presumption of innocence is foundational to our criminal justice system and we should be on guard against its erosion.