I was going to write about what TV, radio and newspapers do to a defendants court plea… and I will, but I’m pleased to add a twist.
With Michael Jackson, Kobe Bryant, Scott Peterson, Phil Spector and a zillion others charged with crimes, we’re hearing a lot about defendants declaring their indignation at the charges and pleading innocent.
Way to go Phil… except in the United States you don’t plead innocent. In reality, the proper pleading is “not guilty,” and there’s an immense difference.
My dictionary says of innocent:
Who wants to stand up to that standard? In fact, having done something, but for whatever reason being ‘not guilty” is a much easier defense.
If you’re innocent you are not guilty. However, you can be not guilty without being innocent. There is a distinction and it’s very important.
Until recently the Associated Press had recommended (in its well circulated style manual) using innocent instead of not guilty. The reason actually goes back to the pre-computer days of set type where the “not” might fall off or become detached from the “guilty.” With computers, that can’t happen anymore. So, a few weeks ago, AP did the right thing and began recommending not guilty as the proper term.
It will take a while for everyone to fall into line, so you’ll continue to hear innocent. But you’ll know lots of people walk without being close to innocent.