Presumed innocent: The Rev. Ted Haggard
Notwithstanding that his mug has been splashed all over Kingdom Come, and he has that hand-caught-in-the-cookie-jar look about him, the Reverend Ted Haggard is innocent. True, he has admitted at least some “indiscretions” – like purchasing illegal drugs (a potential felony offense) – and there is little doubt that he indulged in a least a smidgen of hypocrisy, but in the eyes of the law, Ted Haggard is a innocent man. The eyes of his church may be a different matter, but I won’t presume to go there, my bailiwick being the law and not matters of theology.Let’s first attack the “indiscretions.” As you likely know, unless, under the barrage of the race-to-the-finish-line political blitz, you’ve sworn off all media until the election tidal wave has passed, Reverend Haggard, pastor of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs and president of National Association of Evangelicals, has been accused by a male escort in Denver of a long gay pay-for-play sexual liaison. In a word (or perhaps, five), homosexuality itself is not illegal. As a logical consequence thereof, sexual relations between consenting adult gays and/or lesbians is, legally, no different that the rights and privacies afforded to straight couples. To the extent that his accuser may be telling the truth; if, in fact, Ted Haggard has been having intimate relations with a consenting adult (whether male or female), it is not a legal concern of the state. Whatever opprobrium his church, his conception of God and his community might visit upon him, are in a different realm entirely and beyond the scope of commentary here.Prostitution is another matter. Just as heterosexual prostitution is a crime, so too is homosexual prostitution. Depending upon the precise charges which could conceivably be brought against him, Reverend Haggard could be made to answer for either petty or misdemeanor offenses.Before forging ahead, one further thing should be observed and that is, his statements to date notwithstanding, Ted Haggard’s “admissions” are not legally admissions (for more on this, see my August 28, 2006 column, entitled “Speaking Legally, What is a Confession?” [ https://www.vaildaily.com/ ]www.vaildaily.com select “archives”, search, “columnists,” for “robbins”). Further, it is not at all unheard of (think, recently, Mark David Karr and the JonBenet debacle) for a person under stress to falsely “confess” to acts he or she did not, in fact, commit.The background laid, let’s slog bravely on.I don’t know if Reverend is innocent from reviewing the evidence. I can only surmise as to what to charges might ultimately be filed (if any charges are brought at all). What I do know, however, is the law. And the law is unremitting, emphatic and jealous in protecting an accused from a rush to judgment. The law says that the Reverend Ted Haggard is innocent. Period. Unless and until he is proven otherwise. Such wisdom is there in that damning accusations are far too easily made the law aside, we would all be wise to withhold condemnation or presumption until all the facts are on the table and the “wheres” and “whys” and “hows” are fully vetted.The presumption of innocence, as simple as it may sound, is one of the most fundamental and essential bedrocks of democracy. It is what generations of Americans have suffered, fought and died for. It is the bright and shining beacon that calls the huddled masses to our shores. It is the ideal that preserves us as a nation, apart, distinct, and frankly, better than most nations that have had their turn in history. And each of us has our own small role to play in preserving and protecting this most fundamental tenant of our separate and collective liberty. The presumption of innocence is, plainly, where the rubber of our freedom hits the road.Put yourself in Revered Haggard’s velvet slippers for a moment. What if he’s done nothing criminally wrong? What if his sole offense was nothing more than a momentary lapse of judgment and just plain stupidly allowing himself to me made vulnerable before what just might turn out to be a con man? What if his accuser has fabricated, slanted or embellished what went on between them? I’m not advocating that he did or that he shouldn’t be believed, I’m simply admitting that I – and you – just plain don’t know. And precisely because we don’t know – because a man’s reputation (and perhaps his liberty) are at stake – we must be slow, deliberate, cautious and certain “beyond a reasonable doubt” before we dare allow ourselves to judge.I have no reason in the world as yet to subscribe to either version of the facts. Mind you – mind all of us – for now at least, at law the accuser remains just that and nothing more; a person making accusations, who has an admitted to a political agenda that is being furthered by the current circus atmosphere . Accusations, simply are not proof. They are as different as walnuts and the dollar, both fungible, perhaps, in their own way, but of wholly different currency.Our Founding Fathers would hurrah a deep, abiding, wary vigil and suspicion of such accusations and marching lockstep to the media parade. While compelling, the seductive mantra of accusation is anathema to democracy, human compassion and simple decency.While Reverend Haggard has not yet been criminally accused of anything, it is worth bearing in ming that the Bill of Rights, in its first eight articles, devotes four to the rights of a criminally accused and/or protects a citizen from the potential excesses of the state. Our Constitution was founded upon the grounds of a deep distrust of government, and earned by bloody rebellion against the British overlords who abrogated the basic human rights for which all persons yearn. Fundamental to these basic human rights is the right not be convicted falsely by the tide of public sentiment or popular opinion. The laws of human decency are not so different.We must presume that Ted Haggard is innocent and inure all doubts in his favor because democracy demands no less of us. Whatever our religious, philosophical, ideological proclivities – and however they might butt heads with those of Reverend Haggard – we must bear metaphorical cloves of garlic before an accuser’s pronouncements of Ted Haggard’s wrong-doing until all facts are laid out on the table. And presume his legal and moral innocence until it hurts.Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the Bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley. He is a member of the Colorado State Bar Association Legal Ethics Committee and is a former adjunct professor of law. Robbins lectures for Continuing Legal Education for attorneys in the areas of real estate, business law and legal ethics. He may be heard on Wednesday nights at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) as host of “Community Focus.” Robbins may be reached at 926-4461 or at his e-mail address, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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