Presumption of innocence is an essential right that the accused enjoys in criminal trials in all countries respecting human rights. It states that the accused is presumed to be innocent until it has been declared guilty by a court. The burden of proof is thus on the prosecution, which has to convince the court of the guilt of the accused. Conversely, in many authoritarian regimes, the prosecution case is believed by default unless the accused can prove he is innocent.
This right is so important in modern democracies that many have explicitely included it in their legal codes and constitutions:
- In France, article 9 of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, of constitutional value, says "Every man is supposed innocent until having been declared guilty." and the preliminary article of the code of criminal procedure says "any suspected or prosecuted person is presumed to be innocent until his guilt has been established".
- The Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of the Council of Europe says (art. 6.1): "Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.".
- While the Constitution of the United States does not cite it explicitely, presumption of innocence is widely held to follow from the 5th Amendment, 6th Amendment and 14th Amendment amendments. See also Coffin v. United States
A commonly held myth is that in civil law or inquisitorial justice systems, the accused does not enjoy presumption of innocence. This is simply false. This myth comes in large part because in civil law nations, an investigating magistrate supervises police investigations. However the magistrate does not determine innocence or guilt and functions much as a grand jury does in common law nations.