(This question is inspired by current events, but I'm changing details to avoid the complications of reality!)

In the midst of a reelection campaign, Senator Johnson shot his wife's poorly behaved puppy, without her knowledge or consent. A tabloid reporter documented the event. A wealthy friend of Senator Johnson's pays the tabloid to bury the (ahem) story.

If the friend's gift is conceived as having a political intent, it might constitute an illegal campaign contribution (might... I don't know all of those circumstances). But then it could just as easily be construed as a friend helping Senator Johnson to keep the puppy affair from his wife.

In this kind of situation, does the accused get a presumption of having the non-illegal intent? If so, how would it be possible to ever prosecute these kinds of transactions, since many things that might be politically damaging could also be construed as being personally humiliating?

  • If you are trying to tie this to the current Trump trial you are leaving out the part about the Senator being involved in the process and the person responsible for the business that payed out the money.
    – Joe W
    Commented May 7 at 15:09
  • @JoeW No, as the OP notes, I've intentionally changed the details because I'm not asking about that case specifically.
    – adam.baker
    Commented May 7 at 15:26
  • "Presumption" means that if there is no evidence as to the intent, then we assume it is not illegal. That presumption can be overcome by presenting some evidence that the intent was illegal. The defense can then present more evidence that it was legal, and the jury ultimately decides which is stronger. But "presumption" doesn't mean that we have to eliminate all possibility of the intent having been legal. Commented May 7 at 15:29
  • That doesn't change the fact that there are several major and critical differences between your question and the case that triggered your question in the first place.
    – Joe W
    Commented May 7 at 16:39

1 Answer 1


The accused in a criminal matter enjoys the presumption of innocence: that is, a presumption of no intent, no acts, no elements of the offence, unless proved beyond a reasonable doubt by the prosecution.

If the prosecution does not prove the criminal level of intent beyond a reasonable doubt, the accused is presumed innocent of that offence.

If you're asking how criminal intent is proved beyond a reasonable doubt, this can in fact be quite a challenge. It is why fraud and conspiracy charges are notoriously difficult to prosecute. But, all the normal rules of evidence apply, and anything that could be probative of a person's intent is generally admissible.

  • 2
    And when determining reasonable doubt, the jury can use common sense. E.g. does it seem reasonable that the "friend" would be so generous as to pay so much just to keep the wife from finding out. The prosecutor would likely ask them to think about this in the closing statement.
    – Barmar
    Commented May 7 at 21:26

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