Today marks the 124rd anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court case of Coffin v. United States. Coffin was a landmark case which established the presumption of innocence of all people accused of crimes in the United States.
The case behind Coffin is a complex case of bank fraud conducted at the Indianapolis National Bank. Percival B. Coffin and his co-defendant F. A. Coffin were both charged with aiding and abetting bank fraud perpetrated by the former president of the bank Theodore P. Haughey. After the trial, Mr. Coffin’s lawyer submitted a jury instruction which outlined what the presumption of innocence means, and how it related to the States burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
Unfortunately, Mr. Coffins jury instruction was rejected, and Mr. Coffin and his co-defendant were found guilty. Both appealed their convictions but had their appeals denied. Mr. Coffin then sought a writ of certiorari from the Supreme Court and were granted cert in late 1894.
The Supreme Court heard arguments on December 6th and 7th of 1894. Mr. Coffin’s argument was simple, he argued that the presumption of innocence was axiomatic to the Anglo-American criminal justice system and the trial court had denied them that right by refusing to instruct the jury on that presumption.
The State argued that the presumption of innocence was not expressly stated in the Constitution and was therefore not required.
The Supreme Court rendered its judgment on March 4th, 1895. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court led by Justice Edward D. White held that Mr. Coffin was indeed correct. The Court held that the presumption of innocence was an axiomatic rule of the Anglo-American criminal justice system The Court then went on to hold that all Judges in all jurisdictions of the United States are to be required to give an instruction when requested, and sometimes when not requested about the presumption of innocence to all juries.
While Coffin’s holding is taken for granted today, it did establish a foundational principle of the criminal justice system. All people accused of a crime are presumed innocent until the State proves beyond a reasonable doubt that they are guilty. With Experienced Legal Representation, you can guarantee your rights are protected.
Written By Hunter White
 Coffin v. United States, 156 U.S. 432, 15 S. Ct. 394 (1895)