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The famous Supreme Court of the United States case Coffin v. United States, 156 U.S. 432 (1895) and numerous subsequent cases has established the principle of a “presumption of innocence.”

Further, the United States Constitution (Fifth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendments) calls for “due process” essentially confirming (or at least suggesting) a standard of “innocent until proven guilty.”

We wrote about different standards of evidence we’ve encountered in auction cases here: https://mikebrandlyauctioneer.wordpress.com/2018/07/16/auction-expert-witness-and-standards-of-proof/.

So our question today is: Could an auctioneer be presumed guilty — without due process — and/or without equal protection under the law? Unfortunately, we have seen state auctioneer regulatory agencies presume guilt, as we discussed here: https://mikebrandlyauctioneer.wordpress.com/2009/12/25/auctioneer-licensing-good-or-bad/.

Otherwise, it is certainly reasonable for any auctioneer to be presumed innocent — or not liable — in any legal/regulatory scenario, unless proven to the contrary. In fact, we would think it’s improper to assume or make generalizations about anyone without sufficient substantiation.

However, in a few auction cases in which we’ve consulted as an expert witness, I’ve seen judges and juries take a dim view of lack of production. For example, in one case an auctioneer refused to provide (said he couldn’t produce) the contract as well as the auction video he himself had recorded.

It was presumed the contract and/or video would have not been helpful to his case. If an auctioneer defendant had evidence which would help his case or possibly even exonerate him, why not produce it? The excuse used was that a computer went down without a backup, although all other systems had been routinely backed up for years. At best, suspicious.

You probably noted the Starbucks picture above. Let’s say someone says something as ludicrous as “If you buy from Starbucks you …” [and you can likely finish the claim] without due process, sufficient proof nor any type of “presumption of innocence?” What if it’s an auctioneer drinking Starbucks?

In summary, all auctioneers are advised to preserve all records, video, etc. from their work as an auctioneer and certainly secure an attorney if you are involved in a lawsuit or regulatory investigation. There is no substitute for quality attorney counsel in cases such as this.

Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, CAS, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at: Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, RES Auction Services and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. He serves as Distinguished Faculty at Hondros College, Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School, an Instructor at the National Auctioneers Association’s Designation Academy and America’s Auction Academy. He is faculty at the Certified Auctioneers Institute held at Indiana University and is approved by the The Supreme Court of Ohio for attorney education.