I don’t have anything to say about the Jordan Johnson trial other than to comment on something County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg said after the verdict. Van Valkenburg said that the verdict was “not guilty”, not “innocent”, thereby implying that he believed that Jordan Johnson was guilty on some level.
However, as a matter of law, under the Constitution a “Not Guilty” verdict does equal innocence. Let me explain. By our constitution, any person accused of a crime is presumed to be innocent. This presumption is not overcome unless, and until, the State proves, beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused is guilty. Since the Presumption of Innocence attaches to the Defendant throughout the entire trial, including deliberations, he is innocent unless the jury finds him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. That is why there is no alternative on the verdict form of “Innocent”. If the jury finds that the State has not proven guilt, then the Defendant is still innocent as a matter of law.
Therefore, “Not Guilty” = “Innocent”.
Prosecutors and others routinely comment that a “Not Guilty” verdict does not mean that the jury has found that the Defendant is completely innocent. That is true, but the jury has no option to find the Defendant innocent. Because the Defendant is presumed innocent and the State has the sole burden to prove guilt, it is not necessary for the jury to determine innocence. That is why we have the 5th Amendment which provides that a Defendant cannot be compelled to testify. He need not prove his innocence, because he is presumed to be innocent.
Van Valkenburg’s comment implying that Johnson is guilty of something is simply sour grapes and a cheap shot.
It’s a funny thing about the game of chicken: Someone always loses.
In the case of Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg standing up against the “heavy hand” of the federal government’s investigation into the county’s handling of sexual assault cases, he’s playing against a stacked deck.
In this case, Van Valkenburg might think he’s the Unknown Rebel making a loud and clear stand that will set the tone for Missoula’s stance against federal investigations in our town.
But Tank Man standing up in Tiananmen Square wasn’t saying “I’m just not moving because you guys are doing a great job clearing this place out.” Just as Van Valkenburg isn’t saying he’s not cooperating because his office has done everything perfectly.
The federal government, if it wants, will run over Van Valkenburg. How long and how costly is his choice. When he sits as the lone man refusing to cooperate with the investigation, he makes it look as though he has something to hide.
My sentiment, based on a lack of knowledge due to the hushed nature of the investigation, is that when you’ve got the Feds knocking at your door and the whole nation is watching, you’d probably let them in and give them tea. Or better yet, an apology.
Van Valkenburg’s hard line isn’t removing the tarnished image Missoula received when this whole thing came to light. Harsh headlines could look quite similar to the mock ones in the Onion: “County attorney thinks ‘Rape Capital’ just fine.”
We didn’t get to where we are by accident. There was a clear need for action and change to bring sexual assault in our town to light and to fix the problems and danger our women were facing.
Town leaders could have recognized the problem and acted years ago. They didn’t. Now the Feds are here to pave the way, and Fred would be wise to not get bulldozed in the process.