Coffin v. U.S. (1895) | Definition

Doc's CJ Glossary by Adam J. McKee
Course: Introduction

Coffin v. U.S. (1895) is the landmark SCOTUS decision that established the presumption of innocence in American criminal law.

Citation: 156 U.S. 432 (1895)

Coffin v. U.S. (1895) is a landmark decision by the Supreme Court of the United States that established the fundamental principle of the presumption of innocence in American criminal law. This principle is one of the cornerstones of the American justice system, ensuring that every individual accused of a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

The case involved Charles Coffin, a merchant accused of conspiring to defraud the United States government by submitting false claims for payment. Coffin was convicted in a trial court and appealed the conviction to the Supreme Court on the grounds that the trial judge had improperly instructed the jury on the burden of proof.

In its decision, the Supreme Court reversed Coffin’s conviction and established the principle that the government bears the burden of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. The Court noted that the presumption of innocence is “one of the securities of the rights of the citizen” and is “fundamental to our American system of justice.”

The principle of the presumption of innocence holds that an accused person is innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This means that the burden of proving guilt rests entirely on the prosecution, and the accused is not required to prove their innocence. It is the responsibility of the prosecution to present evidence that proves guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and the accused has the right to challenge that evidence and present their own evidence in their defense.

The presumption of innocence is a fundamental principle of American criminal law, and it is reflected in the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. These amendments provide protections for individuals accused of crimes, including the right to a fair trial, the right to confront witnesses, and the right to due process of law.

In the context of a criminal trial, the presumption of innocence requires that the judge and jury set aside any preconceived notions or biases and evaluate the evidence presented in court objectively. It also means that the accused is entitled to the full range of legal protections and procedural safeguards available under the law.

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Last Modified: 04/15/2023

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