After the US Anti-Doping Agency filed its formal charges against Lance Armstrong last week, we had a question about the follow-on legal process.
Specifically, if the case proceeds to a hearing, will Lance Armstrong be presumed innocent until proven guilty?
And, if yes, what will the burden of proof be?
The criminal standard of “Beyond a reasonable doubt?”
Or the civil standards of “clear and convincing evidence,” which is a lower burden of proof, or the even lower “preponderance of the evidence”).
We still don’t know the answer to the last question (if you do, please tell us), but the USADA has answered the first question:
As the process continues, Lance Armstrong will be presumed innocent unless/until he is found guilty by a review board of independent arbitrators:
As in every USADA case, all named individuals are presumed innocent of the allegations unless and until proven otherwise through the established legal process. If a hearing is ultimately held then it is an independent panel of arbitrators, not USADA that determines whether or not these individuals have committed anti-doping rule violations as alleged.
That’s good news for Armstrong, though the burden of proof will be important.
The US Justice Department recently decided not to pursue a criminal case against Armstrong, which was a huge victory for him. Although we don’t know why the Justice Department dropped the case, the obvious answer is that the felt they couldn’t prove guilt (or, more favourably to Armstrong, that they concluded that he was innocent). But the Justice Department would have had to have proved guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” whereas the USADA will likely only have to meet a lesser standard.
In terms of process, Lance Armstrong now has the ability to submit a written defence, which will be considered by a USADA review board. The USADA review board will then review all the evidence and decide whether to formally sanction Armstrong or drop the case. If the USADA decides to formally sanction him, Armstrong can then request an arbitration hearing. This hearing will likely be held within three months of the Review Board’s decision.
Another question is whether Armstrong will have to testify if there is a hearing, and, if he does, whether he might once again open himself up to perjury charges.
If Armstrong is innocent, there is little risk here. He will presumably want to tell his entire story, from beginning to end, with the aim of persuading both arbitrators and the public that the evidence the USADA is bringing against him is wrong.
Attorneys do occasionally recommend that even innocent clients “take the Fifth,” because this reduces the risk that they will expose themselves to perjury charges. But in a civil administrative hearing like this, if Armstrong is innocent, he will almost certainly want to testify on his own behalf–especially in light of the damage his reputation has already sustained.
And once the hearing is over, given the tremendous public interest in this case, one hopes that all of the evidence and testimony will be released. Nothing would be less satisfying to the millions of people who just want to know the truth than a sealed “guilty” or “not guilty” verdict, especially if Armstrong does testify in the proceeding.
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NOTE: Almost everyone has strong feelings about the Armstrong case, both pro and con. Lance Armstrong’s supporters don’t want to see his amazing accomplishments tarnished any more than they already have been (and, doped or not, the accomplishments are still amazing). They also point out that this is all very old news and that the country has better things to focus on. Others, meanwhile, simply want to know the truth. I’m in the latter camp. I followed Lance Armstrong’s Tour victories minute by minute, and those and his charitable work have always been hugely inspiring to me. Based on all that has come out about cycling in the past decade, I have come to assume that pretty much everyone in the sport doped and that you had to dope if you wanted to be competitive. Given this, I can certainly understand why Lance Armstrong would have doped, and if he did, I’m not going to get on some huge moral high horse about his “cheating.” (“Cheating” gives you an unfair advantage over the rest of the field. You don’t get that if everyone else in the field is doing the same thing.) If Lance Armstrong didn’t dope, meanwhile, and everyone else–including his teammates–did, his accomplishments are that much more staggering. And inasmuch as we’ve come this far, I want to know the truth.
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