Chris Christie has a problem with the presumption of innocence

Last night’s debate was more or less dominated by Ted Cruz and Donald Trump, but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t riddled with deeply problematic claims and proposals from the rest of the candidates on the stage.

Ben Carson warned of a doomsday scenario with terrorists setting off an electromagnetic pulse to knock out our power grid, and implied that Internet comments sections are irreligious and immoral.

Marco Rubio suggested that background checks for gun purchases are unnecessary and possibly illegal.

Jeb Bush promised to ask Silicon Valley executives very nicely for the authority to monitor American citizens without a warrant. And if and when Apple CEO Tim Cook told him no, he’d just “keep asking.”

Chris Christie suggested that our policy of considering criminal suspects innocent until proven guilty — a hallmark of the American criminal justice system — is actually a bad idea.

Here’s what he said (emphasis added), in response to a question about the (non-existent) “Ferguson effect” in which police officers are said to be hesitant to enforce the law for fear of being sued or jailed for mistakes on the job:

Chris Christie, via Wikimedia Commons

Chris Christie, via Wikimedia Commons

Well, first off, let’s face it, the FBI director James Comey was a friend of mine who I worked with as U.S. Attorney of New Jersey. He was the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan. He said, “there’s a chill wind blowing through law enforcement in this country.” Here’s why, the president of the United States and both his attorney’s general, they give the benefit of the doubt to the criminal, not to the police officers.

There are a lot of problems with our criminal justice system, but giving the benefit of the doubt to criminals suspected criminals isn’t one of them. The presumption of innocence, which Cornell’s Legal Information Institute describes as being “one of the most sacred principles in the American criminal justice system,” holds that the accused have a right to the benefit of the doubt until the prosecution can completely and comprehensively prove that they are guilty. You know, that whole “beyond reasonable doubt” standard that every defense lawyer reminds every jury that they are legally obligated to apply.

Chris Christie was a federal prosecutor. He knows this as well as anyone. Yet, when it comes to the police killing civilians in this country — usually young, black men — he’s more than willing to tell a white, Republican audience that one of the most basic standards of criminal justice isn’t useful.

Instead, we should assume that the people police shoot are criminals. If we feel like it, maybe we’ll bother to ask some questions later.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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  • hidflect

    People who are dishonest believe that all other people are dishonest too. It’s how they rationalize their bad character when their head is on the pillow at night.

  • I was in college at UIC at the time. We made a point of avoiding going downtown for any reason.

  • Annettacbader2


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  • Don Chandler

    You don’t need a big staff is all you are doing is conducting a book signing campaign.

  • 2karmanot

    They all heard there was a party being held in the Pyramids.

  • 2karmanot

    Considering Crispy Creme’s larger than life presence…make that a bullhorn.

  • 2karmanot

    I too remember those days…sat in on many an SDL planning session

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  • DoverBill

    Would it matter?

  • DoverBill

    Not to mention that we all recognize the only “Boss” from NJ?

  • The_Fixer

    Oh, I do remember Richard J. Daley, “The Boss.” I remember him well. I also read the book by Mike Royko, who was a class-A reporter – the kind we don’t have today.

    You see, I was raised in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. I remember well the 1968 convention, the “Shoot to kill” order, protesters being thrown in the Lincoln Park lagoon, and the riots. It was, indeed, a “special time.”

    Yes, Christie is a slightly more well-spoken version of Daley. Same bombastic temper, and in the end, the same style of governance – he’s the boss and nobody, but nobody, dare go up against him. Which is exactly why he should not be President.

  • Yep. Presumed guilty of multiple acts of corruption, graft, and illegal interference with national highways — until he proves otherwise.

  • angryspittle

    So we can say Joisy Fats is guilty/

  • Zorba

    Well, Christie should certainly know about being a “petulant child.” Obama isn’t, but Christie certainly is. He’s a spoiled, petulant, playground bully.

  • Indeed, Christie is indeed benefiting from that presumption of innocence…but there aren’t many who don’t think Christie at minimum knew exactly what was going on in Fort Lee and why.

    Remember Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago from the ’60s? Christie reminds me a lot of him — the same police-state impulses, the same vindictiveness, and the same blatant corruption.

  • The_Fixer

    Christie should thank his lucky stars that we have the presumption of innocence in our legal system. Without it, he would not be up on that stage.

    The rest of the clown princes seem to be trying anything out of pure desperation – very much like flinging shit at the wall and waiting for just the right consistency to stick to it. None of it seems to be related to reality or in any way sensible, and very often illegal. Therefore, it is shit and deserves the fate that we normally reserve for such substances.

  • nicho

    Any jail cell that he was in would seem eensy weensy by comparison.

  • nicho

    I get the feeling that nobody wanted Jeb to run — not even Jeb. Especially not Jeb.

  • I made myself watch the clusterfuck which is the usual GOP presidential candidate “debate.” (I have to air-quote that word because it was more akin to watching an unsupervised pack of grade-school boys squabbling with each other.) My take on it:

    Trump: Still running for Fascist Emperor of the Nation Formerly Known as America
    Cruz: Very nearly the same thing, only oilier and sleazier if such a thing is possible
    Rubio: Trying a new sit-com snappy one-liner approach in the desperate hope people notice and like him
    Cristie: The overgrown bully who would indeed make America a police state if he could, as evidenced by the statements you just cited, Jon
    Jeb! Bush: Has not yet realized almost nobody really wanted him to run in the first place
    Carson: Has not yet realized almost everyone on his campaign staff has already quit (h/t Nicho)
    Kasich: Was on the stage, said some words nobody will remember and is the 2:1 favorite to suspend his campaign immediately after the NH primary

  • Don Chandler

    There’s a ‘cold wind blowing’ from both ends of Chris Christie. We presumed he was innocent until it was proven that his staff was causing traffic jams on the George Washington Bridge. People that voted for him for governor no longer like him over Bridgegate. If we assumed he was guilty, he’d be in an eensy weensy jail cell in Fort Lee, NJ. What a jerk.

  • nicho

    I wonder if Ben Carson knows that almost everyone on his staff has quit.

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