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What is Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt?

Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is a legal standard of evidential proof that a prosecutor must present to be able to find a defendant guilty of that which they are accused.

The American judicial system requires the highest standard of proof to convict an individual of a crime. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is the highest standard of proof a lawyer is responsible for meeting.

Origins

The due process clause of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution requires that a criminal defendant be convicted by proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The standard protects individuals against convictions that may be influenced by factual inaccuracies. Such a high burden of proof is intended to support the presumption of innocence in an unbiased court of law.

In cases of appeal, the court is responsible for evaluating whether the evidence provided could support the decided verdict beyond reasonable doubt. This insinuates that the appellate court must decide as to whether a rational jury could have evaluated the evidence of a crime to have proved guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Innocent Until Proven Guilty

In the United States, an individual is presumed innocent, meaning that they are innocent in a court of law until valid evidence has been used to convince a fact-finder otherwise. It is the responsibility of a prosecutor to produce evidence that a defendant is guilty of the charges that have been brought. A criminal defendant or his or her defense team is not required to prove innocence as it is solely the burden of the prosecution to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

Issues Pertaining to the Standard

This standard is essential to criminal proceedings because it imposes a responsibility on the prosecution to argue that a defendant is guilty of the crime that they being charged with beyond any doubt. If a prosecutor is unable to do so, a defendant cannot be convicted of that charge. In multi-count indictments each charge is considered separately, so it is possible for a prosecutor to obtain convictions on lesser charges even when they are not able to convince a judge or jury on the larger counts.

For more information about proof beyond a reasonable doubt or your individual circumstances, contact Alperstein & Diener.