Anyone who has ever watched a police drama on televisions, read a bestselling novel about the judicial system, or viewed a Hollywood blockbuster based on a criminal trial has heard the term “beyond a reasonable doubt.” If you are currently facing criminal charges, the meaning of that term will take on a heightened importance since the outcome of your case – and your future – may depend on it. So what exactly does it mean to prove someone guilty beyond a reasonable doubt? To help you better understand, a Murfreesboro criminal defense attorney explains the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used in criminal prosecutions in the United States.
The History of Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
The concept of “beyond a reasonable doubt” can trace its roots back to the founding of our country. With many of them fleeing the King, and a system based on “you are guilty if the King says you are guilty,” our forefathers felt very strongly that an individual should not be required to prove innocence. Instead, the government should have to prove that an accused is guilty. The due process clauses of the 5th and 14 Amendments to the U.S. Constitution reflect that belief and guarantee all of us the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. Furthermore, the founding fathers believed that the decision to find someone guilty of a criminal offense should not be made lightly. From these beliefs came the concept of guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” that we use today.
The Prosecutor’s Burden
Under the U.S. criminal justice system, the prosecutor bears the burden of proving a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. This is something we have all heard, yet it is a concept that can be difficult to internalize in practice. This means that a defendant is not required to put on any defense. At the end of the State’s presentation of witnesses, the defense can simply rest. Occasionally, that is actually the best defense tactic is a defense attorney strongly believes that the State has clearly failed to meet its burden of proving the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Human nature being what it is, however, causes defendants to want to present a defense and often causes jurors to want to hear a defense, despite being instructed not to draw any conclusions if the defendant does not present any witnesses.
Defining “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt”
At the heart of both the State’s case and the defendant’s case is whether the evidence presented by the State proves the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. So, what does that mean? Lawyer, judges, and scholars have tried to come up with a universal definition for “beyond a reasonable doubt” for as long as the standard has been used in criminal trials, yet a universally accepted definition remains elusive. “Beyond a reasonable doubt” is the highest standard of proof used in our justice system. In contrast, the standard of proof typically used in a civil case is “preponderance of the evidence” which is usually described as “more likely than not” or “at least 51 percent.” The “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard, however, is a much stronger standard. In numerical terms, think of it as around 99 percent certainty. Beyond a reasonable doubt does not mean that all doubt must be removed before finding a defendant guilty though. Consider the following definitions that have been used by legal experts:
- “that no other logical explanation can be derived from the facts except that the defendant committed the crime, thereby overcoming the presumption that a person is innocent until proven guilty.”
- “proof of such a convincing character that you would be willing to rely and act upon it without hesitation in the most important of your own affairs. However, it does not mean an absolute certainty.”
When applies correctly, the beyond a reasonable doubt standard is difficult to reach and provides a defendant with the most protection possible from being wrongly convicted.
Contact a Murfreesboro Criminal Defense Attorney
If you are facing criminal charges in the State of Tennessee, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced Murfreesboro criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible to ensure that your rights are protected throughout the prosecution of your case. Contact the team today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your appointment.