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Mr. Tumelty represented Helena Hendricks, who was charged with first degree murder in Atlantic County Superior Court. The defendant faced a number of additional charges, including armed robbery, conspiracy and possession of a handgun for an unlawful purpose. At the conclusion of a jury trial that lasted three weeks, the defendant was found "not guilty" of all charges.

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Are You Really Innocent Until Proven Guilty?

The “presumption of innocence” or concept of innocent until proven guilty is an ancient idea of criminal law, but it’s a bit of a misnomer in modern times. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that innocence of the criminal defendant is “an assumption of innocence” that the court “indulges” when evidence to the contrary isn’t available.

In the courtroom, the presumption of innocence is based on the prosecution’s burden of proof. In other words, the prosecutor must prove beyond reasonable doubt that the charges before the defendant are true.

Known as a “due process” requirement, the principle is reflected in many judicial opinions and legal statutes. The person suspected of committing a criminal act may be presumed innocent—but he or she is also subject to due process. Although the principles seem inextricably entwined, they may be separated.

The U.S. Supreme Court previously ruled that, in some situations, the court must issue instructions to the jury regarding the presumption of innocence—in addition to its instructions concerning proof beyond a reasonable doubt. An instruction of the “presumption of innocence” might be necessary if the jury seems inclined to convict a defendant for other considerations than the presented facts of the case.

The presumption of innocence principle is reflected by the constitutional practice of releasing certain defendants from custody before trial. In some instances, the court may decide to retain defendants by denying bail until the trial is complete.

For that reason, criminal defendants and those close to them should understand that the concept of “innocent until proven guilty” is symbolic. In reality, no defendant would be required to stand trial unless a police officer, crime victim, or prosecutor believes he or she is guilty of committing the crime.

The government must show it has sufficient evidence, or “probable cause” to conclude that the defendant committed a crime. After probable cause is accepted, the accused isn’t necessarily treated as though he or she is innocent of the crime and may be remanded to jail with the court’s approval.

If you’re accused of a crime in New Jersey, the truth is that you need an experienced legal advocate who will fight for your rights. Contact The Law Offices of John W. Tumelty at 609.385.4010 or via our online contact form to schedule an initial case evaluation.


The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney/client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.

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