Chris Christie has a problem with the presumption of innocence

Last night’s debate was more or less dominated by Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t riddled with deeply problematic claims and proposals from the rest of the candidates on the stage.

Ben Carson warned of a doomsday scenario with terrorists setting off an electromagnetic pulse to knock out our power grid, and implied that Internet comments sections are irreligious and immoral.

Marco Rubio suggested that background checks for gun purchases are unnecessary and possibly illegal.

Jeb Bush promised to ask Silicon Valley executives very nicely for the authority to monitor American citizens without a warrant. And if and when Apple CEO Tim Cook told him no, he’d just “keep asking.”

Chris Christie suggested that our policy of considering criminal suspects innocent until proven guilty — a hallmark of the American criminal justice system — is actually a bad idea.

Here’s what he said (emphasis added), in response to a question about the (non-existent) “Ferguson effect” in which police officers are said to be hesitant to enforce the law for fear of being sued or jailed for mistakes on the job:

Chris Christie, via Wikimedia Commons

Chris Christie, via Wikimedia Commons

Well, first off, let’s face it, the FBI director James Comey was a friend of mine who I worked with as U.S. Attorney of New Jersey. He was the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan. He said, “there’s a chill wind blowing through law enforcement in this country.” Here’s why, the president of the United States and both his attorney’s general, they give the benefit of the doubt to the criminal, not to the police officers.

There are a lot of problems with our criminal justice system, but giving the benefit of the doubt to criminals suspected criminals isn’t one of them. The presumption of innocence, which Cornell’s Legal Information Institute describes as being “one of the most sacred principles in the American criminal justice system,” holds that the accused have a right to the benefit of the doubt until the prosecution can completely and comprehensively prove that they are guilty. You know, that whole “beyond reasonable doubt” standard that every defense lawyer reminds every jury that they are legally obligated to apply.

Chris Christie was a federal prosecutor. He knows this as well as anyone. Yet, when it comes to the police killing civilians in this country — usually young, black men — he’s more than willing to tell a white, Republican audience that one of the most basic standards of criminal justice isn’t useful.

Instead, we should assume that the people police shoot are criminals. If we feel like it, maybe we’ll bother to ask some questions later.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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