One For The “Innocent Until Proven Guilty” Crowd

Stop scaring my dog!

A commenter recently pulled out the hoary and almost always misused “innocent until proven guilty” line, which reliably makes me scream, frightening the dog and the neighbors. Thus I was happy to see this September 28 ruling by the Louisiana Supreme Court, which found that Philip Pilie, a 2007 University of Georgia School of Law  who passed the bar examination in 2009, lacked the character and fitness to be admitted to practice in the state, despite the fact that he was not convicted of the crime that resulted in his disqualification.

Why? Because he did it, that’s why. Pilie contacted what he thought was a 15-year-old girl online and arranged to have sex. She was, unfortunately for Pilie, really a big, hairy, middle-aged man looking for predators who like to have sex with under-age girls. Pilie  was arrested at the planned rendezvous and charged with two  felonies,  computer-aided solicitation of a minor and attempted indecent behavior with a minor.

Pilie negotiated a deal with the district attorney to avoid prosecution. He completed a pre-trial diversion program including counseling, and all charges  were dropped. Pilie took and passed the bar exam, but was informed  in March 2009 that he lacked the character and fitness for admission to practice, because he trolled on computers for young girls to have sex with, by his own admission. His appeal to Louisiana’s highest court failed, twice.

In the latest decision, the court said that Pilie’s lack of a criminal conviction made no difference in its reasoning. “Had petitioner been a practicing attorney at the time of his misconduct, it is very likely he would have been permanently disbarred,” it wrote. “Given this fact, we can conceive of no circumstance under which we would ever admit petitioner to the practice of law.” Pilie was permanently barred from ever again seeking admission, without ever being “convicted in a court of law.”

When it comes to making assessments of a person’s character and that person having to accept the consequences of those assessments, a conviction isn’t necessary, as long as there is sufficient reason to believe the wrongful conduct took place. You have to be proven guilty in a court of law in order to receive criminal penalties  from the state, but when the consequences are being fired, not hired, untrusted, shunned, or not being allowed to practice law in Louisiana, “innocent until proven guilty” is a non sequitur. Plus it frightens the neighbors and the dog.

Let’s speak no more of it, okay?

___________________________________________

Facts: National Law Journal

Graphic: Funniest Outtakes

14 thoughts on “One For The “Innocent Until Proven Guilty” Crowd

  1. Note that being factually innocent is no defence against being punished by the state – including execution.

    As long as due process has been followed, and guilty verdict returned, that is all that is required.

    This Court has never held that the Constitution forbids the execution of a convicted defendant who has had a full and fair trial but is later able to convince a habeas court that he is “actually” innocent. Quite to the contrary, we have repeatedly left that question unresolved, while expressing considerable doubt that any claim based on alleged “actual innocence” is constitutionally cognizable.
    Supreme Court Justice Scalia

    I consider this idea ethically and morally bankrupt.

    • I don’t. The courts decide…absent a demonstration in trial that convinces judge or jury, the verdict stands. Otherwise the system falls apart. Errors with guilt are supposed to be addressed by the executive.

      • I don’t. The courts decide…absent a demonstration in trial that convinces judge or jury, the verdict stands. Otherwise the system falls apart. Errors with guilt are supposed to be addressed by the executive.

        It is also an example of separation of powers.

  2. “There is no basis in text, tradition, or even in contemporary practice (if that were enough), for finding in the Constitution a right to demand judicial consideration of newly discovered evidence of innocence brought forward after conviction.” – Scalia

    I think there should be, don’t you?

    • Not if the pardon system works the way it’s supposed to. This is the safety valve included in the system, because otherwise the judicial process literally has no end. If there is actual innocence, the wrongly convicted individual is pardoned and exonerated by the State, through the executive. Among other things, it’s faster and cheaper. It just requires some guts.

      • And if the pardon system is as dysfunctional as the current one?

        The problem is that there is no way of determining actual innocence from the new evidence. It may be conclusive, obvious, incontrovertible – or may not. Are we to leave the judgement of the issue solely to the whim of the Executive? One who may have been elected on the basis that they weren’t in the business of granting pardons under any circumstances?

        If the evidence *is* conclusive, obvious, incontrovertible – what remedy is there if no pardon is granted?

        • Are we to leave the judgement of the issue solely to the whim of the Executive?

          Yes.

          One who may have been elected on the basis that they weren’t in the business of granting pardons under any circumstances?

          What examples are there of those?

  3. The concept of legal truth vs. absolute truth is a difficult one to grasp sometimes. The law may state that beer is not an alcoholic beverage or that chickens aren’t animals, but the law doesn’t instantly change the composition of beer or the nature of chickens. This is a very old concept and has baffled people at least since the Spartans said of the Athenians “They think they can change a donkey into a horse by voting on it.”

    A person may not have actually committed a crime, but the legal system has determined that they are guilty. This is how the law has always worked in our society. It only works to make sure there aren’t an unreasonable number innocents who are convicted. To do otherwise would make the system grind to a halt. Now, there are ways to minimize this, but society must make it a priority, and it hasn’t. Police and prosecutorial errors, bias, and misconduct, unreliable eyewitness testimony, unfounded forensics conclusions, and ignorant jurors are common causes of such injustice but society has not put much importance on fixing them. Relying on a governor to face political backlash by doing his duty may not be the wisest thing to rely on, but until society decided otherwise, it is what we have.

    • In the LA Times yesterday, the 300th convict exonerated of violent crime — AGAIN, 300TH— by the Innocence Project, by DNA evidence, and 18 of those 300 had been on Death Rows. Exoneration pursued by private organizations, not by “society”. Imprisoned for various periods — one for 24 years.

      “…it is what we have”, indeed, and it stinks.

      Here’s wishing Justice (?) Scalia a happy retirement, beginning now,

      • In the LA Times yesterday, the 300th convict exonerated of violent crime — AGAIN, 300TH— by the Innocence Project, by DNA evidence, and 18 of those 300 had been on Death Rows. Exoneration pursued by private organizations, not by “society”. Imprisoned for various periods — one for 24 years.

        “…it is what we have”, indeed, and it stinks.

        Here’s wishing Justice (?) Scalia a happy retirement, beginning now,

        Justice Scalia is right. The pardon power belongs to the executive.

  4. I must concur. We absolutely have a disgustingly poor legal system, even if it is the fairest in existence. If only………..

  5. I know I’m coming late to the party but there seems to be an irregularity in the application of well founded government ethics to those of civilian organizations and I wanted to get your thoughts on it.

    For example:

    Innocence until proven guilty is a reasonable and obviously ethical standard for a government to hold. But in this situation with the BAR, despite ‘innocent until proven guilty’ you argue the long standing ethical principle does not apply (I happen to agree).

    Conversely, in the fiasco involving the juicing baseball player with the unusually high batting average, you assert that the principle of ‘not retroactively punishing someone’ DOES apply (to which I disagree) despite having the same pedigree as ‘innocent until proven guilty’.

    • Apples, oranges and bananas. In the government case, the issue is an individual being imprisoned or having a conviction record, and due process is required. In the bar case, he wasn’t proven “guilty” in a court of law, but he was determined to have bad character based on admitted acts, and it is the determination of bad character that concerns the bar. In the steroid case, you are talking about an ad hoc penalty that didn’t exist before the case—that’s per say a violation of due process, and clearly unfair.

      The three situations involve three separate principles.

  6. In the bar case, he wasn’t proven “guilty” in a court of law, but he was determined to have bad character based on admitted acts, and it is the determination of bad character that concerns the bar.

    Also, the bar uses a preponderance of evidence standard in disciplinary hearings,.

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