If the police arrest you, it means that you’re guilty of a crime.
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Whether you’ve seen your neighbour taken away in handcuffs, or read some news online about someone innocent, or acting in self-defence being arrested, many people assume that being arrested means the police consider you GUILTY of a crime.
Not only the police do this, many people are quick to call those arrested “criminals”. You all remember the case of Mohamad Zulkifli Ismail who was charged with murder for protecting himself from robbers? After his arrest, his wife was apparently harassed by people who called her husband a “murderer”.
“According to Zulkifi’s wife, Puan Zaimah, she is unable to carry out her daily job of operating her small stall that sells breakfast, as insensitive people who accuse her husband of being a murderer frequently harass her. She is forced to shut herself in at home with her kids, where she is safe.” - exerpt from TheCoverage.my, emphasis added.
But does getting arrested by the police mean you’re guilty of the crime?
Is it true?
It gets technical, but...
Or at least, not yet.
There’s a legal concept called the “presumption of innocence” - that you are assumed innocent until you are proven guilty. The distinction isn’t always clear-cut, but there’s roughly 3 stages until you’re actually guilty of a crime: arrest, being charged, and conviction.
Arrest - Not guilty yet
When the police arrest you, it doesn’t mean you’re guilty but rather, that they have reason to believe you were involved in the crime and are detaining you for further investigation (e.g. for questioning)
The police can’t simply arrest anyone because the Federal Constitution provides that no person may be deprived of freedom unless in accordance with the law. Article 5(1) of the Federal Constitution reads:
“No person shall be deprived of his life or personal liberty save in accordance with law.”
Section 28A(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code requires that you are informed of the crime you are being arrested for, and you have certain rights even when under arrest.
There are variations to how long the police can detain you based on what crime was committed, but you’ll be released without issue unless...
You get charged - Still not guilty yet
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When being charged, it means that the police have gathered enough evidence to prove you committed a crime. You’ll be brought to court for a trial.
Being charged means that you are being accused of a crime, which the prosecution will then have to prove. The form of a charge is laid out in Section 152 of the Criminal Procedure Code which states the specific crimes you are being accused of, and under Section 153 (in most cases), how you committed the offence.
At this point, you are still NOT guilty of a crime as the prosecution needs to prove your guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, as provided in Section 173(m) of the Criminal Procedure Code.
The court trial is also the point when you enter your defence. A defence is valid when your actions have fallen into the legal criteria of a crime, but the circumstances were within exceptions allowed by law.
From here, it can go two ways...
Conviction - Guilty!
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If the case against you is proven, the Court will pronounce you “guilty” and pass your sentence. In this case: you are now GUILTY
If the prosecution cannot prove the case against you beyond a reasonable doubt. The Court is required to acquit (release) you. In this case: you are NOT GUILTY.
This is known in law as the “due process” which requires the hearing of both sides of the story, and that a person’s freedom is not taken away without just cause. Arrest is part of the process of conducting further investigations (and keeping others safe in case of serious crimes) to find the truth.
Note: This answer is based on the legal perspective rather than individual cases. If you come across any rumours or have any general questions about how the law works, let us know on our Facebook page or send us an email.