You overhear two people talking.

Flaticon IconPerson A: There's a giant muffin deep in the earth's core.

Person B: That sounds ridiculous. How can you prove it?

Person A: It's not my job to prove it right, you have to prove it wrong.

Person B: But we've never observed the earth's core, so how can I prove that wrong? You need to prove that your idea is right.

Person A: It is your job to prove me wrong. I don't have to prove anything to you.

The two people leave and you are left confused.

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Is it Person A's job to prove that there isa muffin in the earth's core?

Or

Is it Person B's job to prove that there is nota muffin in the earth's core?

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This question of who is responsible for providing proof is central to the difference between innocent until proven guilty and guilty until proven innocent.

The Burden Of Proof

The burden of proof is a concept that asks,

'Whose job is it to prove something?'

Scenario 1:

Person A: We should raise the minimum wage. It will help the economy.

Person B: We should not raise the minimum wage. It will hurt the economy.

If we wanted to know the truth, we would want both Person A and Person B to prove their claims. And then we would judge the proofs to determine the best one. Here, the burden of proof rests with both people.

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Scenario 2:

Person A: Cats are the best pets.

Person B: I don't think that's true. Can you prove that cats are the best?

Person A: I don't have to. You have to prove why cats aren't best.

Person B: No I don't. You need to prove that cats are the best.

In this case, the burden of proof rests with Person A. They made the claim that cats are the best pets to have. They have to prove that idea. Person B doesn't have to prove that cats aren't the best.

Quiz

In the 'Muffin in the Earth's Core' discussion, where does the burden of proof fall?

Neither has the burden of proof

Person B has the burden of proof

Both people have the burden of proof

Person A has the burden of proof

What's The Difference?

'What's the difference between the two examples in the previous section?'

The difference is whether someone is making a claimor rejecting a claim.

  • If you make a claim, you must provide proof.

  • If you reject a claim, you don't need to provide proof.

Can I just reject everything and not worry?

Nope! If someone provides a proof, the burden shifts to you. Now you have to show why the proof is wrong. Then the other person must show why your criticisms of their proof are not good.

A Crime Is Committed...

The police have a suspect who denies committing the crime. The case goes to trial.

The defense lawyer tries to prove that the suspect did not commit the crime.

The prosecution tries to prove that the suspect did commit the crime.

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Innocent until proven guilty:

  • In this case, the burden of proof rests with the prosecution.

  • We start by saying, 'This person is innocent.' This is our initial assumption. And the prosecution must prove that the person is guilty.

  • The defense will show why the prosecutor's proof is wrong.

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Guilty until proven innocent:

  • In this case, the burden of proof rests with the defense.

  • We start by saying, 'This person is guilty.' This is our initial assumption. And the defense must prove that the person is innocent.

  • The prosecutor will try to show why the defense's proof is wrong.

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Burden Of Proof And The Law

In most legal systems, the view is that someone is innocent until proven guilty.

This means that when the lawyers get to court, the burden of proof is first with the prosecutor. They must prove why the suspect is guilty. It is the defense's job to how why the prosecutor has failed to prove that the suspect is guilty.

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Summary

The difference between:

"Innocent until proven guilty" and "Guilty until proven innocent"

Is a matter of 'Who has the burden of proof?'

In cases where we assume, 'Innocent until proven guilty':

  • We assume the suspect is innocent.

  • The burden of proof rests with the prosecution to prove that the suspect is guilty.

  • The defense must show why this proof is not good enough.

In cases where we assume, 'Guilty until proven innocent':

  • We assume that the suspect is guilty.

  • The burden of proof rests with the defense to prove that the suspect is innocent

  • The prosecution must show why this proof is not good enough.

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The whole difference revolves around the question, 'Whose job is it to prove their point?'

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This Byte has been authored by

AV

Alex Venis

Post Secondary Educator, E learning specialist