Governor Cuomo’s Presumption of Innocence

Governor Andrew Cuomo. (Office of the Governor)

A few years ago, when Dick Cavett had his television show, he invited famed criminal defense lawyer F. Lee Bailey as his guest. Bailey was the defense lawyer for the Boston Strangler and Patty Hearst, and later one of the attorneys for O.J. Simpson. Cavett was ready for Bailey. He has spoken with the network’s law department and had a copy of the Constitution in his breast jacket pocket.

When Bailey came on he asked an innocent question: “Where is the presumption of innocence in the law?” Bailey, seemingly caught off guard, hesitated and then answered by saying: “It’s in the Constitution.”

Cavett pulled out his copy of the Constitution and gave it to Bailey to search for the language in the Constitution. There was a long pause as Bailey attempted to find it. After a few agonizing minutes, Cavett finally chimed in, “You won’t find it in there because it is given to jurors at the close of the case and part of the judge’s charge or instructions to jurors.” It is given to jurors after they have heard all of the evidence so that they can decide the facts.

In Governor Cuomo’s case he has denied wrongdoing with respect to nursing homes deaths and sexual harassment in the workplace. He has denied these charges, but nonetheless political leaders such as Senator Chuck Schumer, a Harvard trained lawyer, have called for his resignation. The Rule of Law tells us that the governor is entitled to the presumption of innocence. Democrats should be careful about their attack since, if they keep it up we may wind up with a Trumper for governor.

Thomas F. Liotti

Liotti is a trial attorney in Garden City and Village Justice in Westbury. He is a past president of the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and former chair of the New York State Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Section.

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