The presumption of innocence represents a political and moral consensus that criminal defendants should not be subject to punishment until adjudicated guilty under a strict standard of proof. Although this concept has long been recognized as the hallmark of the criminal law, its potential application to civil proceedings has been largely neglected. Civil defendants enjoy no presumption of innocence. As a result, civil defendants are frequently subject to immense, unrecoverable costs prior to any real forecast or determination of liability. Legal blindness to these costs has produced a system in which civil plaintiffs enjoy tremendous procedural advantages at almost every stage of litigation, thereby virtually nullifying the presumption of innocence, which is grounded in practical and normative concerns.
As a practical matter, the presumption of innocence is designed to shield innocent defendants from the financial costs, personal disruptions, invasions of privacy, and general intrusions on individual dignity associated with litigation. As a philosophical matter, it is rooted in ideals of justice and liberty that have historically served to constrain the worst effects of state coercion. Finally, as a legal matter, the presumption intersects conceptually with various judicial doctrines, including due process, the law of personal jurisdiction, and certain concepts familiar to the criminal law. All of these justifications for the criminal presumption apply with equal force to the civil system. A presumption of civil innocence is therefore essential to the development of a unifying conception of American law.
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