Those of us who come from Western legal systems that have been influenced (however slightly) by the civilizing influence of biblical law, we take for granted that the accused are presumed innocent and that guilt must be proven. Furthermore, we assume (at least legally, if not emotionally) that the accused should go even if we suspect he (or she) is guilty if a high standard of guilt cannot be proven. This assumption is not made because of a soft-hearted desire to let the guilty go free, but rather an understanding that the only security for the innocent whose only crime may be opposition to authorities is a standard of proof that prevents miscarriages of justice. The greater interests of justice for the wide body of people, all of whom are sinners (as are all of their leaders) leads to the truth that some guilty go free and receive a better verdict than they deserve. Otherwise, a justice system becomes a tool to punish the innocent used by the guilty whose power exempts them from the operation of the cruel legal machinery of that corrupt society.
Not all societies make the same presumption of innocence. In fact, one very useful way of determining how Gentile (to use this term broadly) a society is can be determined by a view of its justice system. Any justice system that presumes guilt on the part of the accused and where the personal bias of the judge becomes the deciding factor in the execution of justice will be unjust and corrupt in nature. Those who support such a justice system can be assumed to be rather biased individuals embedded within a corrupt system, rather than people who have as their guide the just and fair standards of our Creator. An understanding of this view of justice can help us see when a society is moving from one that is influenced at least in part by God’s ways to further levels of corruption and deliberate rejection of God. The external operation of a justice system and a shift in its mentality either officially or practically, can be used to recognize deeper shifts within that culture either toward or away from God.
Let us also note, though, that this principle extends far beyond legal machinery to the way in which we treat others. Though few of us are judges and lawyers or members of a jury assigning guilt or innocence, every day we are bombarded with claims that seek to influence our opinions of other people, as well as companies and public servants and other countries (and their leaders). Some of these claims are seeking to defend a particular point of view, while others are seeking to accuse others of wicked behavior or incompetence. To what extent do we give the benefit of the doubt to others, and on what grounds do we tend to believe people to be sincere in their self-justification or simply dishonest and self-serving in their communications? Obviously personal history and knowledge of the character of others as well as our own worldview and point of view will strongly influence these matters. Nevertheless, even in cases of informal judgment we need to be aware of our own tendency to presume either guilt or innocence on the part of others, to determine if extensive personal experience is needed for us to presume either guilt or innocence as well as our native assumptions of the character and behavior of others. Doing so allows us to see if we ourselves are as just as we might claim or might wish.