What Is The Burdon Of Proof In A Criminal Case? “PROOF BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT”
The prosecution in a criminal case has the burden of going forward with evidence and must present facts that prove guilt BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT. The reason that the prosecution has the burden of presenting evidence first is that there is a presumption of innocence until actually proven guilty. These concepts are embodied in the courts instruction to the jury quoted as follows:
“The fact that a criminal charge has been filed against the defendant is not evidence that the charge is true. You must not be biased against the defendant just because he has been arrested, charged with a crime, or brought to trial. A defendant in a criminal case is presumed to be innocent. This presumption requires that the People prove a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Whenever I tell you the People must prove something, I mean they must prove it beyond a reasonable doubt unless I specifically tell you otherwise. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is proof that leaves you with an abiding conviction that the charge is true. The evidence need not eliminate all possible doubt because everything in life is open to some possible or imaginary doubt. In deciding whether the People have proved their case beyond a reasonable doubt, you must impartially compare and consider all the evidence that was received throughout the entire trial. Unless the evidence proves the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, he is entitled to an acquittal and you must find him not guilty.”
The most difficult task for attorneys as they argue to a jury is to explain this concept. Unfortunately most judges will not allow attorneys to paraphrase the instruction and when the jury has a question as to its interpretation the court will merely read the instruction again and advise them to continue their deliberations. In my experience I have been able to advise a jury that proof beyond a reasonable doubt is a state of mind similar to what you might have had upon making a decision to get married, start a family or purchase your first home. The intent of the justice system is not to require 100% certainty in a decision but a decision based on the evidence using human experience and sound judgement.
This concept of proof beyond a reasonable doubt and the presumption of innocence is the guiding principle for our justice system. For these reasons a unanimous verdict is required where all 12 jurors must believe beyond a reasonable doubt and with an abiding conviction of the guilt of the accused for there to be a finding of guilt.
Some courts have allowed me to argue that an abiding conviction of the guilt of the accused means that each and every morning that you wake you must still believe that the decision that you have made was correct and proper. This is a heavy burden on the prosecution but this burden is designed to protect and enforce the concept of the presumption of innocence.