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Innocent until accused?

June 15, 2012
The Inter-Mountain


"This could happen to anybody, it could happen to any law enforcement officer, it could happen to you all, it could happen to anyone. It's a shame,' Hawkins said to the commissioners."

This is so true. Law enforcement is not targeted in this type of accusation (sexual offense). Hawkins just happened to be sheriff. This is a terrifying thing to be accused of, and there is no way to be sure that you will not be accused next. You are innocent, and lead a quiet lawful life? That does nothing to keep you safe from these allegations. Your whole life could suddenly and swiftly crumble away. No one would look at you the same again. You have nothing to worry about, because you will be found innocent in court? In our country you are considered innocent until proven guilty? That is how it is supposed to be; however, it is not in these cases.

What "burden of proof?" Sexual offenses are considered "secret" crimes that often have no evidence other than the word of the "victim." How can a person prove he didn't do something that someone else said he did? I am not saying Hawkins is innocent or guilty, but our system is flawed and we need to do something about it immediately. No one is safe.

What are the penalties if you were unable to prove that you were unjustly accused? You would face many years in prison. After that you would be labeled for life, unable to find work, no programs available to help reintegrate you into society, nowhere to live because no communities accept sex offenders.

With all this at stake, and everyone at risk of being in this position at some point in his life, what should we do? West Virginia has a law that says circumstantial evidence must be given as much weight as direct evidence. This allows many people to be found guilty who are innocent. That law should be changed. There should be some defense for this accusation, some "burden of proof" other than the "victim" stating that it happened.

Also registering for life? I don't understand why we single out this particular crime for this. People say, "I don't want a sex offender living next to me." OK, but do you want a murderer? Or a thief? Or maybe a drug dealer? Why are they not required to register for life, too?

People say, "Because they have served their term and done their punishment and now we are to give them a second chance." OK, why is this not the same for sex offenders? People say, "Because they often 're-offend.'" I ask you, is this not true of murderers? Or thieves? Or drug dealers?

How many of you truly believe that after a drug dealer goes to jail, when he gets out he will no longer sell drugs? People also say, "Substance abusers only hurt themselves, whereas sex offenders hurt other people." Do drug dealers or even users only hurt themselves? Where do these users get their money to buy drugs? By robbing people, sometimes murdering people, or getting our children addicted also. Certainly no one can deny that murderers, thieves and substance abusers all hurt others.

Also, why is the sentence for sex offenders longer than it is for murderers? Is this crime worse than death? There are undeniably cases where it happens and is a horrendous crime, but so is murder; and then there are cases where innocent people are found guilty simply because it only takes an accusation.

What can we do? Demand our laws protect our innocent again. Not only the innocent "victims," but the innocent accused. It could be you next.

Cheryl Smith




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