The Difference Between “Arrested” and “Charged” and “Convicted” Seems Too Subtle for Media, Some Observers

The controversy in professional sports over how million-dollar athletes who abuse their partners are treated took a bit of a bizarre twist on Thursday night when MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who knows better, lumped 49er Ray McDonald into the discussion along with Ray Rice and other athletes involved in such acts recently.

Ray Rice has been convicted. He is guilty of the crime. He needs to be dealt with as a criminal. A two-game suspension is undoubtedly too light a punishment; the NFL admits it screwed that one up. (And the screw-up is almost certainly part of a bigger picture of deliberate eye-winking and elbow-nudging that has gone on for far too long.)

49ers Ray McDonald - Not Even Charged!

49ers Ray McDonald – Not Even Charged!

But — and this is a huge but — the difference is that McDonald hasn’t been convicted. In fact, he hasn’t even been charged. So far, he’s only been arrested and released on bond. He has a court hearing scheduled. Here’s where our nation’s well-known (and, I thought apparently naively, well-understood) rule of law — that one is innocent until proven guilty (i.e., convicted) — comes into play. To punish McDonald at this point would be the very definition of injustice. He has been arrested “on suspicion” of committing a crime. But you can’t be convicted on “suspicion.” The authorities must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime has been committed and that you committed it. Period. End of discussion.

If the DA in Santa Clara County had the evidence, he could charge McDonald with a specific crime. In the face of formal charges, the Niners and the NFL might be justified taking some temporary action. (Although even then, he’s still presumed innocent. Depending on how overwhelming the evidence appears and how egregious the offense, the league or the team might be justified in acting, but I would argue would still be premature.) But until the man is convicted, he is innocent. As such, he’s entitled to keep his freedom and his job.

This is not rocket science, folks. Just because a crime is outrageous or egregious or offensive doesn’t lend it any additional power to punish in the absence of proof of its commission. You may not like that. Until the first time you’re unjustly accused. Then you’ll fall madly in love with this crucial provision of our legal system.

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