Assumptions and presumptions … what’s your functions?

This week we talk about assumptions and presumptions.  In everyday usage, there isn’t much difference between the two, with both words referring to something that we think is true (without proof).  But although assumptions (or presumptions) may be a good starting place as we consider new concepts and ideas—they really need to be revised from time to time as we gather facts (e.g., an assumption that the Oregon Ducks are no match for the defending national champs simply doesn’t match the known facts after the Rose Bowl).  As Isaac Asimov once said, “Your assumptions are your windows on the world.  Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.”

Anyway, as interesting as assumptions and presumptions are in everyday use, this tip concerns assumptions and presumptions in legal usage.  And in legal usage, the two words are very different.

In legal usage, an assumption is an unverified belief that something is correct.  Because lawyers avoid building cases on unverified beliefs that may turn out to be untrue (or at least try to), assumptions are useless to a lawyer.  On the other hand, presumptions are very useful when proving a case.  Generally, as used in the law, a presumption carries evidentiary weight by raising an inference that must be rebutted by the opposing party.

In Oregon, the Evidence Code states that “a presumption imposes on the party against whom it is directed the burden of proving that the nonexistence of the presumed fact is more probable than its existence.”  The Code then lists useful presumptions such as “A person intends the ordinary consequences of a voluntary act,” “A person takes ordinary care of the person’s own concerns,” “Evidence willfully suppressed would be adverse to the party suppressing it,” and “The law has been obeyed.”  So as you can see, a legal presumption—unlike an everyday presumption—is a powerful legal tool!

That is all for now …

1 Comment

Filed under Troublesome Words

One response to “Assumptions and presumptions … what’s your functions?

  1. Kyle

    I believe ‘assume’ is used many times when ‘presume’ is meant. When we must briefly take facts as true as a stepping in an argument. Often the truth isn’t important but needed to be accepted as true merely to get to the bigger point. “Even if you assume gas is ten cents a gallon, you still need to save up for another year to be able to afford that trip.”

    On the other hand, when one presumes, while she believes something to be true without proof, she does so because it seems obvious or so clear to her its truth is taken for granted. “I presumed you wouldn’t want to go to dinner with us; you always talk about how you much you despise the owner.”

    If what you assume to be true really isn’t, it doesn’t really matter or offend since it is just a stipulation to move the supposition along. But when one presumes and is incorrect, that is a problem. This is why you never get accuse of being assumptous.

    That’s how it seems to me anyway. Though maybe I’m being…

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