Criminal Defense

What Does “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” Mean in Criminal Law?

March 20, 2018 by Anastasiia Ponomarova in Criminal Defense  
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Guilty, Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

A prosecutor should prove that the defendant is guilty of the crime for which he or she has been accused “beyond a reasonable doubt”.

This means that the proposition, scenario, or facts presented by the prosecution must be proven to the jury or judge to the extent that there could be “no reasonable doubt” in the mind of a “reasonable person” about the defendant’s guilt.

If the judge or jurors have zero doubts as to the defendant’s guilt, or if their only doubts are without reason, then the prosecutor has proven the defendant’s guilt and the defendant should be pronounced guilty as charged.

But the burden of proof can be considered not fulfilled if, after giving all the evidence and testimony, even a slight doubt was influenced on the verdict of the judge or any member of the jury that the defendant committed the crime.

Beyond a reasonable doubt is the highest standard of proof that must be met in any trial. And the main reason that this standard of reasonable doubt is used in criminal trials is that such proceedings can result in the deprivation of a defendant’s liberties.

Standards of Proof for ‘Beyond a Reasonable Doubt’ in Criminal Law

To better understand beyond a reasonable doubt, it helps to look at two other standards that courts may apply:

  • A preponderance of the evidence. The evidence in a case is convincing that the facts as presented by one party are more likely to be true than not true. In some cases, the standard is held to a greater than 50 percent chance that the facts are true.
  • Clear and convincing evidence. While the requirement of clear and convincing evidence there is a high probability that the facts as presented by one party are true. While this seems very similar to the preponderance of evidence requirement, the requirement for clear and convincing evidence is actually a higher standard of proof.
  • Beyond a reasonable doubt is the highest standard in the American legal system. In a criminal case, because the stakes are so high, it is not enough to prove that the defendant is “probably guilty”. Rather, the prosecution must prove each element of its case beyond a reasonable doubt, and there is literally no other explanation as to what really happened.

Standards of Proof in Criminal Law

Does a Defendant need to Prove they did NOT Commit a Crime?

The short answer – No. The burden rests entirely with the prosecution. With that said, it certainly would help in the case of defending oneself if evidence is presented contrary to the prosecution’s case.

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