Timothy Sandefeur: The Presumption of Freedom

If a judge put the burden of proof on the defendant to show that he did not commit the crime, the judge would be loading the dice against him. Even if the defendant proved he did not own the gun used to commit the murder, well, perhaps he borrowed it! To disprove that, he must now prove that he did not know the gun’s owner. But perhaps he paid that person to lie! – and so forth, infinitely. Every disproof only creates a new speculation, which must again be disproved. These speculations might seem silly, but they are not logically impossible, and requiring the defendant to prove his innocence – imposing the Devil’s proof on him – would require him to disprove even such bizarre conjectures. Every accused person would find himself in a hall of mirrors, forced to prove himself innocent of an endless series of baseless accusations, without regard for the rules of logic. As a procedural matter, presuming innocence is preferable, because an erroneous conviction is harder to fix than an erroneous finding of innocence. And as a substantive matter, the presumption of innocence is better because a wrongfully convicted person suffers a different, more personal harm than the public experiences if a guilty person goes free. Likewise, there are an indefinite number of speculative reasons that might defeat anyone trying to prove that he should not be deprived of freedom, just as there are an infinite number of ‘what ifs’ that the ‘Devil’ could use against a defendant who tries to prove he did not commit a crime, or a person who tries to disprove the existence of an invisible teapot: What if a person abuses his liberty? What if he doesn’t know how to use it wisely? What if he turns out to be a psychopath – or perhaps his children or grandchildren turn out to be psychopaths? What if there are top-secret reasons of state that warrant imprisoning him – reasons no judge may be allowed to see? Wary of the Devil’s proof, logicians place the burden on the person who asserts a claim, because that is the only logically coherent way to think. Likewise, the presumption of freedom requires those who would take away our liberty to justify doing so, because that is the only logically workable way to think about politics and law.
— Timothy Sandefeur, The Permission Society: How the Ruling Class Turns Our Freedoms into Privileges and What We Can Do About It