A guy at the store was incredulous – "how could he have pled not guilty!  His pants were on fire and his leg almost melted into the seats!" 

"Yeah," his wife chimed in, "adds new meaning to the term fire ball!"

And so it goes. Kind of like "how could you represent someone that guilty?" 

Here’s how the press reported it:

"Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab’s arraignment was brief — less than five minutes — and a not guilty plea was entered on his behalf. He said little, telling the judge simply that he understood the charges against him."

Whenever a defendant is arraigned in court, he or she is advised of the charges, the potential punishment and the rights that go with being a defendant in a criminal case in the US. Perhaps the most fundamental of rights is the presumption of innocence that cloaks every defendant – even the unpopular ones who might threaten the lives and safety of fellow passengers on a plane.  You enter a plea of NOT GUILTY to place the burden on the prosecution to prove guilt by legal and competent evidence establishing guilt BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT. That not guilty plea starts the process that leads to discovery of investigative reports, consideration of the defendant’s competence to stand trial, and any available defenses to the charges.

So when a guy can’t blow up his own pants, and still pleads not guilty – he is asserting those same guarantees that each and every defendant has in a criminal trial. And that is big stuff. The kind of stuff that separates our system from other systems in other countries that end in "…stan." We have shed American blood for over 250 years to make sure that no defendant ever has the duty to prove his or her innocence. I served and maybe you did too. We served because we believe in the system, even when it looks like the defendant mocks its existence.  Not so – we have a system that relies on procedural rules, and those rules help to keep us free.