What Does Innocent Until Proven Guilty Mean?

Innocent Until Proven Guilty Meaning

Definition: Consider someone accused of a crime to be innocent until he or she is proven to be guilty in a court of law.

Origin of Innocent Until Proven Guilty

This expression is also called presumption of innocence. It is a bedrock principle of the English legal system that has developed in English and in America. Without such a principle, tyrants would lock up dissidents without a trial or conviction.

The idea behind the presumption of innocence is that the accuser holds the burden of proving that that accused did the crime. The accused has the legal right for a court to consider him or her innocent until proved otherwise.

Examples of Innocent Until Proven Guilty

you are not guilty until proven guiltyIn the dialogue below, two friends are talking about a neighbor of theirs who the police recently arrested.

Ezekiel: Did you see all the police in our neighborhood last night?

Maggie: Yeah, but I have no idea what was going on. I didn’t have time to check the news this morning. Do you know?

Ezekiel: Yeah! They arrested Bob. They think he may have murdered someone!

Maggie: What? That can’t be true. Bob always seemed so quiet and nice.

Ezekiel: I bet he did it.

Maggie: Come on. Whatever happened to being innocent until proven guilty? We shouldn’t assume anything at this point. We have no evidence.

innocent before guiltyIn this example, two friends are arguing about a famous actor who many people accused of committing a crime.

Tyrion: I wish people would stop saying that that actor did all those horrible things.

Mila: Why? I’m pretty sure he really did do all that.

Tyrion: Why would you say that? In this country, we believe that a person is innocent until proven guilty!

Mila: Yeah, in a court of law. That doesn’t apply to public opinion.

Tyrion: Well, maybe it should apply to both. I, for one, won’t believe he is guilty until the judge rules that way.

More Examples

This excerpt is from an article about a couple that murdered their son, after a movie inspired them to do so.

The Franklins are charged with second-degree murder, arson and tampering with physical evidence.

Heather Franklin’s attorney told the court that she’s “innocent until proven guilty.” –USA Today

This excerpt is about a director defending his actor against claims of sexual assault.

Lonergan tried to school Aberle about the U.S. legal system: how people are innocent until proven guilty, what constitutes proof, and the permanence that unproven allegations can have in the online public record. –USA Today


Innocent until proven guilty is an important rule that courts in many nations must follow. The accuser must prove that a person is guilty before a judge or jury rules that that person is guilty.