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MAKING SURE THE PROSECUTION MAINTAINS ITS STANDARD
Understanding ‘Beyond a Reasonable Doubt’
The due process clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments “[protect] the accused against conviction except upon proof beyond a reasonable doubt of every fact necessary to constitute the crime with which he is charged.”
The reasonable doubt standard plays a vital role in the American scheme of criminal procedure. It is a prime instrument for reducing the risk of convictions resting on factual error. The standard provides concrete substance for the presumption of innocence—that bedrock basic principle whose enforcement lies at the foundation of the administration of our criminal law.
Courts over the years have debated the extent to which the government has to prove its case to meet this high standard. But it’s clear that, according to the standard, it’s not enough for the trier of fact to simply believe the defendant is guilty. Rather, the evidence must be so convincing that no reasonable person would ever question the defendant’s guilt. The standard requires that the evidence offer no logical explanation or conclusion other than that the defendant committed the crime. Courts sometimes describe this level of confidence in a verdict as a moral certainty. This means there is a great likelihood that the accused committed the crime. And though most courts refuse to attach any numbers to the phrase “beyond a reasonable doubt,” some people believe it means 90%, 95%, or even 99% confidence that the accused did the crime.
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What the Reasonable Doubt Standard Means:
1) The burden is on the prosecution to prove both that the defendant committed the crime AND that he/she did so in a negligent OR intentional manner.
2) The prosecution must also prove all the important facts suggesting a defendant is guilty. (This would include things like whether or not the defendant was at the scene of the crime when it was said to occur or whether or not the defendant was aware of his/her actions when he/she committed the crime.)
3) The defendant is not required to prove he/she is not guilty.
4) In deciding whether or not a defendant is guilty, a jury must consider and carefully evaluate all the relevant evidence presented in a case.
5) In order to convict someone, a jury must find the proof in a case SO strong that it has no honest, reasonable doubts as to any element of the crime or the defendant’s identity as the perpetrator of the crime.
6) If there is doubt, and it is reasonable, as to the defendant’s role in ANY required element of the crime, then the jury must find the defendant not guilty.
What the Reasonable Doubt Standard DOES NOT Mean:
1) The Reasonable Doubt standard DOES NOT mean the prosecution has to prove a defendant is guilty beyond ALL possible doubt. Some doubt over the facts in the case and/or the guilt of the defendant can exist. In order to convict someone, however, these doubts must be small/negligible enough for you to still be reasonably convinced that someone is guilty based on all the available evidence.
2) On the other hand, the Reasonable Doubt standard is NOT met if the defendant is found only “probably guilty”. There must be stronger proof than this.
3) The Reasonable Doubt standard cannot be fulfilled on baseless speculations, bias or sympathy for the defendant or the victims.
Proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt is proof that leaves you convinced of the defendant’s guilt that you have no doubt of the existence od any element of the crime of defendant’s identity as the person who committed the crime charged.