January 31, 2012

By now most have heard about the allegations of sex crimes against former Penn State defensive coach Jerry Sandusky. Many may also be thinking twice about how they judged whether Joe Paterno was also to blame, at least in part, for not doing more to stop the alleged sex abuse.

Sandusky himself faces 40 counts of child sex abuse, stemming from incidents between 1994 to 2009. But Paterno, who passed away from cancer during the course of the release of information and subsequent investigation, was never criminally charged. But, he did lose his job, one that he’d held for over 40 years, as the football coach at Penn State.

As a reminder, it’s a cornerstone of our criminal justice system that one is innocent until proven guilty, something that criminal defense lawyers across the country fight for daily.

Unless you are tried in the court of public opinion, that is. Paterno was considered just as guilty, by many, as if he’d committed the alleged sex crimes himself.

Whenever a sex crime is alleged — including child pornography, rape, incest, statutory rape or an internet-related sex crime — the assistance of an experienced criminal defense attorney cannot be understated. Many are quick to condemn those accused of sex crimes, particularly those involving children, before all the facts are laid out in a court of law.

It is true that children need and deserve to be protected. But it is also true that people need and deserve to be protected from false or overstated accusations. And a civilized society has no room for an intolerance of both the criminal justice system and the presumption of innocence.

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