Burt Prelutsky

There are very few things you can confess to these days that will garner you a raised eyebrow, let alone public censure. After all, a day doesn’t go by that people don’t go on TV and admit to all sorts of crimes and misdemeanors that may get an ovation from Oprah’s audience, but rate no more than a shrug and a stifled yawn from the rest of us, sated, as we are, with such disclosures. Use drugs? Commit serial adultery? Beat your kids? Kick your dog? Date sheep? Ho hum.

I, on the other hand, am about to admit something that will rub a lot of people the way that steel wool rubs pewter. I confess that I never presume that anybody who’s been arrested and indicted is innocent. While I realize that some of them are, that the eye witness made a mistake or the cops nabbed the wrong guy or the D.A. was overzealous, my assumption is that the mug on trial is as guilty as sin.

Although I understand that our legal system is based on the presumption of innocence and the notion that every person, however vile his history, is entitled to the best defense his money can buy, I can’t help believing that he wouldn’t be in hot water if he hadn’t committed the crime.

What’s more, I don’t stop thinking he’s guilty just because twelve goofballs got flimflammed by some fast-talking shyster, and wound up handing him a Get Out of Jail Free card. Furthermore, I’ll go so far as to say that, whatever folks may say to the contrary, most of you feel the same way.

As we all saw in the O.J. Simpson case, even the term “a jury of his peers” has been turned on its head. Whatever it may have meant in the past, in our silly age it has come to mean that blacks have to be well-represented on a jury trying a black celebrity, even if he happens to be a wealthy ex-jock who has spent most of his adult life chasing blondes, and has nothing in common with those fans sitting in the jury box aside from pigmentation.

Those who insist that we mustn’t ever presume guilt inevitably commandeer the moral high ground. It just sounds so nice, this presumption of innocence, so highly principled, so doggone American. The problem is that once you cut through the malarkey, what it really is, is laughable.

Do you presume Hitler was innocent? Or Idi Amin? How about Stalin? Pol Pot? Why not? Not one of them has ever been found guilty in a courtroom by a jury of his peers.

To believe that we must presume these butchers were therefore innocent makes you a fool. Wishing you’d had the opportunity to plead their case makes you something even worse. It makes you an ACLU lawyer!