Related: What different legal-systems are there?

The idea of "innocent until proven guilty" is sometimes thrown around as an example of American exceptionalism, but it turns out that this is in fact the standard used in most of the world. There seem to be quite a few countries where there are fewer protections for criminal defendants, but I can't find any where "guilty until proven innocent" is literally the case.

I would define a "guilty until proven innocent" legal regime as incorporating most, if not all, of the following criteria:

  • The contents of an indictment or other formal accusation are presumed true unless specifically rebutted in a court of law.
  • Defendants in court who plead Not Guilty are required to prove their innocence in order to obtain an acquittal.
  • Simply disproving the prosecution's evidence is insufficient for an acquittal unless the defendant also affirmatively proves their innocence.

Are there any jurisdictions anywhere in the world where "guilty until proven innocent" is the rule for criminal cases?

Just to be clear, I'm not asking for examples of jurisdictions that are not as friendly to defendants (e.g. hearsay is admissible, no doctor-patient privilege, trial by jury not guaranteed, expanded authority of judges to issue search warrants, no right to a "speedy" trial, etc.), but something more approaching, "Oh no, John accused me of breaking into his garage. If I can't affirmatively prove to a jury that I was in America all of last month and couldn't have broken into his garage here in Ruritania, I'm going to prison!"

  • 4
    Civil forfeiture laws work a lot like this.
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 13 at 22:37
  • @ohwilleke So does Title IX.
    – Ryan_L
    Oct 14 at 0:23
  • aren't military tribunals guilty-until-proven-innocent?
    – grovkin
    Oct 14 at 20:02
  • @grovkin Not in the U.S.
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 14 at 21:15
  • @Ryan_L Not true.
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 14 at 21:16

The idea of "innocent until proven guilty" is a rebuttable presumption. That is, the legal system presumes that someone is innocent, but that presumption can be rebutted by demonstrating facts and evidence to suggest that the truth is otherwise. This is a presumption in favor of the defense.

There are, however, any number of presumptions in favor of the prosecution that exist in various legal systems. In this case, if the presumption is required for the establishment of guilt, the burden is on the accused to rebut the presumption.

Some systems even have irrebuttable presumptions. If an irrebuttable presumption is necessary to establish someone's guilt, the person is presumed guilty. They cannot even present evidence to rebut the presumption.

For example, in Canada, there is an irrebuttable presumption that one's blood alcohol level drops at more than 5mg/100mL per 30 minutes. If a blood alcohol test done an hour later shows your blood alcohol level to be 8mg/100mL below the legal limit, the presumption suffices to establish your guilt and you cannot even introduce evidence to the contrary such as an earlier test that could prove that your blood alcohol level was below the legal limit when you were actually driving.

UK rape law has some conclusive presumptions as well. For example, if you are accused of raping someone and the prosecution can show that you intentionally impersonated someone known to the complainant, there is an irrebuttable presumption in favor of the prosecution that there was no consent.

Rebuttable presumption are more like "guilty until proven innocent" though. Here, the Prosecution does not have to provide evidence to establish some fact, the defense has to provide evidence to show the presumed fact is not so.

For example, if you have sex with someone who you are unlawfully detaining, UK law entitles the prosecution to a presumption that the sex was non-consensual.

Australia has a "reverse onus" jury instruction for cases involving rebuttable presumptions. It is something like, "In this case, there is an exception to the general rule that the prosecution must prove their case beyond reasonable doubt. The law says that for an offence of [whatever], the accused must prove [whatever] rather than the prosecution."

For example, say you are an Australian charged with unlawfully entering an area that the government of Australia has declared may not be entered. The law permits you to enter solely to provide humanitarian aid. However, you have the burden of demonstrating that you only entered to provide humanitarian aid. It is not enough to show that you did in fact provide humanitarian aid where there, you must somehow establish that this was your sole purpose. The jury will get a "reverse onus" instruction that you must somehow prove that your sole purpose was to provide humanitarian aid.

  • 1
    The question the OP posed is what systems don’t have that presumption not how it can be overcome in ones that do
    – Dale M
    Oct 14 at 7:29
  • @DaleM As I explained, the Australian system doesn't have that presumption when it comes to a person whose defense against a claim of entering a declared prohibited area is that they entered it only to provide humanitarian aid. The Canadian system doesn't have that presumption when it comes to a person whose defense against a claim of driving under the influence is that their blood alcohol level was within the legal limit when they drove and dropped rapidly prior to being tested. These are specific examples where the system has no presumption of innocence. Oct 14 at 14:50
  • 2
    @DavidSchwartz In a jurisdiction with presumption of innocence, defense is not automatically required. The prosecution has to prove their case, the defense doesn't have to say anything if they don't want to. Like for the Australia example, the prosecution must prove the accused was in the restricted area while it was restricted. The accused is presumed innocent about this. In all of your examples, the prosecution still must prove basic facts.
    – Ryan_L
    Oct 14 at 16:01
  • @Ryan_L True, but so what? If there was a jurisdiction where you could be found guilty of rape with the prosecution merely proving that you were in fact the person who had been indicted, nobody would argue that that system has a real presumption of innocence. And if you read the question (particularly the end of it), it seems pretty clear that it's looking for cases where the defendant has to affirmatively prove some facts to establish innocence rather than the prosecution having to prove all the facts essential to the crime. Oct 14 at 16:22

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