Blackstone's Formulation is often cited in criminal cases, and it's one of the cornerstones of the American legal system. It was created by Sir William Blackstone, who lived from 1723 to 1780, in England. English settlers in the young United States took his legal principle and used it as the basis for the legal system in their new country.

Protecting the Innocent

The exact quote from Blackstone, per Harvard Law School, is as follows: "It is better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer.”

The goal here is not to allow the guilty to go free, but to ensure that the innocent are not unfairly jailed or otherwise punished -- capital punishment was more widely used at the time than it is today -- for crimes they did not commit.

A Legal Right

This quote has been so influential that it is a legal right. When accused of a crime, you have the right to be presumed innocent, which stems from this principle. Courts must err on the side of innocence. It's the reason you have to be proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Any doubt shows that you may be the innocent party that Blackstone is referring to, and you should therefore be allowed to go free. Blackstone recognized that this meant some who were guilty would also be allowed to go free when doubt was cast on their cases for various reasons, but he -- and the U.S. legal system -- would take that tradeoff to protect the innocent.

Shaping the Law Today

Are you facing criminal charges? If so, it's important that you know all about your legal rights, which are largely shaped by ideas and principles that have been passed down for centuries. Everyone has the right to a fair trial and everyone must be presumed to be innocent, in keeping with Blackstone's Formulation, unless they are proven to be guilty.

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