(1) Everyone charged with a penal offense has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defense.
(2) No ones shall be held guilty of any penal offense on account of any act or omission which did not constitute a penal offense, under national or international law, a the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offense was committed.
Have any of you ever had a parent assume you did something wrong that you know you did not, and despite your pleading, for whatever reason, they did not believe you? You were sent to your room, grounded or maybe spanked and left feeling more than a little betrayed. If mom and dad can be so unfair, what’s to stop the rest of the world from being so unfair? Mom and dad’s are hard put upon though, they don’t have the time or resources to review all the evidence and after a hard day of work and frustration they may be disposed towards thinking the worst of you at the drop of the hat. Now imagine that happening if you were accused of something more serious, like betraying your country, or killing your own child. Imagine knowing that the authorities or the public had already decided your guilt or innocence without any redress and with that knowledge knowing that you could never live a normal life again, even if somehow you were not convicted.
These two particular cases, Bradley Manning and Casey Anthony, are very emotionally charged. I know there are people who will be upset with my even comparing the two, but it is important to do so. PFC Manning’s guilt has already been decided on by the administration. Likewise Casey Anthony was tried in the court of public opinion. In Anthony’s case presumed innocents at least won out in the court of law, though she now faces constant scrutiny and ridicule because people “just know” she is guilty. Maybe she did really kill her daughter, but we will never know, because the prosecutors failed to prove it. In Manning’s case a young man who bravely put his neck out to expose the crimes of fellow soldiers has already suffered horribly for doing so. His actions should be lauded by our leaders, who should be eager to hold him up as an example of honor and the legitimacy of our cause. Instead, more concerned with the diplomatic embarrassment he has exposed they seek to condemn him. Even if he does go free, they have taken their pound of flesh from him without his ever getting his day in court.
As for provision 2 of this Article another, newer, famous case comes to mind. The killing of Trayvon Martin is a terrible event (I won’t call it a tragedy, because I fail to see how he could have circumvented it.) George Zimmerman claims self-defense and at least according to the law he may be correct (won’t use the word “right” here.) The “Stand Your Ground” law enabling him to do so is a terrible miscarriage of justice that needs to be corrected. It is also possible that even in the light of this terrible law he may still rightfully be convicted. I won’t get into the details here, but there seems to be, on the face of it, enough evidence to suggest he has no defense using this law. If he does, however, and he goes free, we should resist the urge to rework the law to punish him after the fact. The forbidding of ex post facto exercise of the law is a cornerstone of our legal system and is what this provision of the Article codifies as a human right.
It is a human right, and in our legal system, for a reason. It was not too long ago in human history, that it was common for rulers to make a perfectly legal act that offended them a crime and punish those that committed it in innocence out of spite, pride or political prudence. When allowed for in a legal system, ex post facto makes the law a weapon in the hands of the powerful, more so than it already is.
The world is a difficult place to live in if you have no power. These two ideas are the first and most obvious defense the powerless have against the depredations of the powerful. We should never be willing to give them up so lightly.