My idol Tony Serra is quoted in Lust for Justice as saying to a graduating class of law students:
I believe that the presumption of innocence is a fabulous thing. It’s perhaps the most cherished thing that we have given body to as a culture. Americans don’t really stand for very much. We’ve invented the cowboy movie. We’ve certainly invented a lot of implements of destruction: military airplanes, deadly toxins, and bombs. We jealously guard our atomic weaponry and disallow everyone else to have it. But on the good side, we’ve given concrete form and expression to the concept of presumption of innocence and we’re giving it now to the world. It’s really one of the pillars of a free society. We presume innocence. We make the prosecution prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt, to a moral certainty. What a fabulous notion!
Yet now society barely pays lip service to the presumption of innocence. It has become an idle construct of words, something that has no breath, no vitality. So what I say is, “Your spiritual cup must flow over.” When a cup flows over, there’s plenty for everyone. Part of that flow has to be, in our lives as lawyers, presumption of innocence. On a metaphysical level, presume every person innocent. Presume innocence always. Presume your family innocent. Presume your fellow lawyers innocent. Extend that presumption of innocence to everyone.
See, we are all truly innocent. The dichotomy of “guilt” or “innocence” is an artifact of words. We’re all either innocent or we’re all guilty! And we cherish innocence. We have built a noble edifice, a constitutional mandate, to that idea. Cherish that idea. Bring that idea forward with you each day. Presumption of innocence — serve that concept! Serve it in large ways. Serve it in small ways. Serve it every day. Bestow it upon your fellow man and woman, and you will be proud to have become a member of the legal profession.
Elsewhere in Lust for Justice Serra is quoted as calling the defense attorney, in a talk before a different audience on closing argument, “the incarnate symbol of the pursuit of justice for the accused.”
I love America, and therefore do not love the United States of America.