Pro tip from Arbery shooters' attorneys: Let's not forget the presumption of innocence and due process, please

Pro tip from Arbery shooters' attorneys: Let's not forget the presumption of innocence and due process, please

A wise admonition — and one that might have saved Ahmaud Arbery’s life if Bob Rubin’s and Jason Sheffield’s client had stuck to it in the first place. The two attorneys argued yesterday “there is more to the story” of why Travis and Gregory McMichael tracked down and killed Arbery, and scolded people on their assumption of guilt without hearing the whole truth. “That’s the purpose of a trial,” Rubin intoned at a press conference late yesterday afternoon.

Consider this today’s entry in the Someone Left the Irony On Department, with due hat-tip to MAD Magazine. Be sure to watch all the way to the end to enjoy the easy dunk from the attorney representing the interests of the Arbery family:

Does anyone see the flaw in this particular public-relations argument? Anyone? Oh, lets not always see the same hands. “We wish that Travis and Gregory McMichael would have afforded that same presumption of innocence to Ahmaud Arbery,” replied Lee Merritt. While it’s certainly true that the legal system holds the presumption of innocence for those accused of crimes, it’s rather ballsy to hold that up as a standard for two people who are accused of drawing down on and shooting someone they thought might be committing a crime rather than, oh, calling the police.

That’s some first-class chutzpah right here, but it gets better. One reporter pointedly asked at the presser why their client didn’t apply that standard to Arbery before chasing him down and killing him. Sheffield argued that presumption of innocence only really applies in court:

“We are asking everybody who is following this case, who is reading about it, who is reading about it piecemeal, who are forming opinions without knowing all the facts – to just take a breath, because the facts will come out,” Decatur attorney Robert G. Rubin said. …

In one pointed question, the lawyers were asked if Arbery also should have been entitled to a presumption of innocence by the McMichaels. The father and son say there had been burglaries in their neighborhood in the weeks leading up to the shooting, and maintain they were attempting a citizen’s arrest when an armed McMichael got into a struggle with an unarmed Arbery and ended up shooting him.

“So the presumption of innocence carries with a person who is accused of a crime… we understand the opinions, the attitudes of people across the country – those exist, they are real, they are playing out in the case,” Sheffield said. “But the presumption specifically of innocence is a legal term of art that follows the accused.”

Sheffield’s not quite correct in this limitation. It’s a term of art that follows the accused within the legal system, not necessarily with the entirety of the population. Generally speaking, it’s still good advice to keep an open mind about guilt or innocence until a jury gets to see the evidence — as we have seen of late in other contexts — but we’re not required to refrain from judgment. That means we can still point out the hypocrisy of a legal team representing apparent vigilantes suddenly demanding that everyone respect their clients’ presumption of innocence and complaining about a rush to judgment.

In the meantime, there’s another lesson we can all take from this. Citizen arrests are only very rarely necessary, and police exist for a reason. If you see something suspicious, call 911 rather than grab a gun and act like junior G-men. The police may not always get these right either, but the odds are a lot better when trained professionals handle these situations.

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