Everyone thinks that Fotis Dolus killed his estranged wife. After all, that is what the state alleges he did in the arrest warrant charging him with her murder. Why even bother with the trial? Let’s face it the crime he was accused of was so horrible and unthinkable no one wants to forgive him or even consider that he may somehow “get away with it” like OJ Simpson did. Should the presumption of innocence be reduced when the allegations are particularly egregious? Is everyone entitled to the same presumption of innocence? Shouldn’t we have to wait until the time of trial to have a determination of guilt or innocence?
Before I get any further in this blog, I know that there are strong passions involved in this case and I don’t condone anyone who commits a violent act against anyone, particularly the mother of their children. I am not writing to support Fotis Dulos or condone his actions. I am writing to question what has happened to the presumption of innocence and if the general public really understands what that concept means?
The Presumption of Innocence
While the presumption of innocence is not expressly cited in our Constitution, it is universally accepted that this presumption is supported by the Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments and has been cited in numerous decisions of our Supreme Court as a fundamental principle of our system of criminal justice. Everyone is presumed to be innocent unless and until the State can prove them guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. When you are charged with a crime, you do not have any duty to prove your innocence, rather the state has the exclusive burden of proving each and every element of the crimes charged beyond a reasonable doubt.
What is an Arrest Warrant?
While an arrest warrant is certainly very official-looking, we must remember that it is a laundry list of allegations that have not been proven. The standard for granting an arrest warrant is a finding of probable cause which is a very low threshold of proof. Just because a judge signs an arrest warrant does not mean that someone is guilty. When an arrest warrant is filled out by a police officer they certainly are not going to include any exculpatory evidence or even any facts that question the state’s case against you. In reality, police only put the worst things about someone in an arrest warrant and leave out anything that they feel hurts the chances of getting the warrant granted. As a criminal defense lawyer, I look at an arrest warrant with a very critical eye. For those interested here is a video I made about arrest warrants:
Are Innocent People Arrested For Crimes Based Upon Faulty Warrants?
A lot of the general public and media seem to think that what is written in an arrest warrant is really authoritative and must be accurate. In my experience, a warrant is only one side of the story. In most cases, if you want to know what really happened you need to conduct an independent investigation and review of the facts. Let’s look at a recent example of a case that I handled.
In this case, my client was charged with Larceny in the 1st degree and a Judge set his bond at $250,000. If you read the warrant it looked like a really serious case. According to the warrant, it looked certain that my client was 100% guilty as charged. With a little detective work on my part and my investigators, we quickly were able to prove that the case against my client was not only weak but that they actually had the wrong guy. After 6 weeks the State’s attorney dropped the charges. What if my client did not have an attorney fighting hard on his side and what if everyone believed what was written in the arrest warrant and the media accounts?
You can read the details here:
What About All Those People Who Are Wrongfully Convicted and Later Released From Jail?
If you follow the news, just about every week you read a new story about someone who was just released from jail after serving years if not decades in prison because DNA evidence proved that someone else committed the crime or because other issues with the original prosecution have come to light. It is a fact that innocent people are charged with crimes every day in America. Innocent people are being convicted of crimes that they never committed. These are people who received supposedly fair jury trials and were convicted. Here is a story of just one man out of thousands who have was released from prison after serving 38 years for a murder he did not commit.
Can You Get a Fair Trial In a High Profile Case?
When the media coverage goes viral like it has in the Jennifer Dolus death one has to wonder if it is possible for anyone to really get a fair trial? According to Google, the term Jennifer Dolus was the #1 searched result on Google in Connecticut in 2019. With this level of intense media attention is it possible for any jury pool to be untainted by the allegations of the arrest warrant and facts that have been leaked to the media by the state? Would anyone want to be known forever as the lone juror who had reasonable doubt that Fotis Dulos committed the crime? Certainly, the media is in the business of selling advertisements and sensationalizing a case like Jennifer Dulos leaves serious questions about the ability for anyone to have a really “unbiased jury.”
While there are measures that the trial court can take to help remedy the effect of media attention on potential juror impartiality one has to wonder if these measures really are effective. While a lot of people certainly would take offense with some of the outrageous defense theories propounded by the defense team of Fotis Dulos was the answer to providing him a fair trial preventing his defense team from speaking about his defense publically? It seems somehow one-sided when the state can publish its version of the facts through the arrest warrant which is just a list of allegations but the defense team has a gag order in place to prevent them from talking about their defense.
Conclusion – Let’s Remember That a Warrant is Only An Allegation
OJ Simpson obviously killed his ex-wife. It was the most famous trial of all time. The jury refused to convict him so he was acquitted. Going back in time, if we believed everything that the state alleged against OJ Simpson there would be no doubt that he committed murder and should be spending life in jail. As it turns out the “dream team” uncovered a lot of police misconduct in the investigation of the crime itself and that lead to a lot of doubt about the state’s case.
No matter what it says in an arrest warrant you have to keep an open mind and remember that it is just a list of allegations made by a police officer. I believe in the jury trial system and think that by putting evidence before an impartial jury you can get a fair determination of guilt or innocence. Was it fair to conclude that Fotis Dulos killed his wife before we heard from the defense team? Did the media respect the presumption of innocence when it was reporting on the Fotis Dulos case? Did we already make up our own minds about his guilt just based upon the arrest warrant because the allegations were so shocking and alarming? A case like Fotis Dulos certainly tests our tolerance to respect the presumption of innocence because the allegations are so shocking and disturbing we would have a hard time understanding how anyone could commit such horrible acts.
When we respect the presumption of innocence we respect our system of justice and we respect our own individual civil rights. The presumption of innocence is one of the main liberties that keep us from becoming a police state. Guilty people who commit crimes will be convicted by an impartial jury. Until they are let’s afford everyone the presumption of innocence no matter how horrible the crime they are accused of committing.