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:

Guaranteeing the presumption of innocence extends beyond the judicial system. For instance, in many countries journalistic codes of ethics state that journalists should refrain from referring to suspects as though their guilt was certain. Also, many civil rights activists feel that pre-employment drug testing, while legal, violates this principle, as potential employees are presumed to users of illegal drugs, and must prove themselves innocent via the test.

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.

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