What Is Reasonable Doubt?
Posted on Jul 16, 2013 9:16am UTC
In the wake of the Zimmerman verdict, there has come a swirl of scrutiny, backlash, support, protest, and indifference – all within our country and even all within the state of Texas. To avoid any argument, though, it would be more appropriate to use this case as an opportunity to help those accused of a crime, as well as others in the general public, understand exactly what reasonable doubt means.
Reasonable doubt is a term used widely throughout the non-legal field as a simple summation of an essential and immensely important legal element. In short, reasonable doubt is the standard of evidence needed to validate a conviction during a criminal trial. It is the burden of proof the prosecutors must exceed, must prove beyond in relation to a criminal defendant’s guilt or innocence.
Regardless of the charge at hand and no matter whether it is a simple drug possession offense or second-degree murder, the prosecution in criminal cases will have to prove a defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. If a jury, or in some cases a judge, has any reasonable doubt as to the guilt of the defendant, they should – by this very concept – determine a defendant to be innocent. If the jury or judge has no doubt – or if their doubts are unreasonable in nature – then the prosecutor has done their job of proving guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and a defendant should therefore be pronounced guilty.
Reasonable doubt is considered the highest standard of proof in the legal system. In civil cases, such as a personal injury claim, the standards of proof are lower. Preponderance of the evidence – which is one standard of proof – only means that one side has more supporting evidence to their claim than the other, even if the margin is narrow. Clear and convincing evidence – another standard of proof in civil litigation – only requires proof that presents a high probability that a claim can be true. Why is the burden of proof so high in criminal cases? Simply put, because there is so much on the line. In criminal cases, defendant’s freedoms are often at stake, sometimes for decades. In some situations, it may very well be one’s life on the line.
Risks of wrongful convictions, human rights, and human nature have made the burden quite high, not to mention profound in more ways than one. In a landmark United States Supreme Court case (In re Winship), the Supreme Court ruled that every element of the prosecution’s case must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. The reason for ensuring the highest standard of proof was said to be founded on a “fundamental value determination of our society that it is far worse to convict an innocent man than to let a guilty man go free.”
Regardless of what the truth may be in the Zimmerman case or any other criminal case, this national story that has captivated so many serves to highlight that we live in a world of subjectivity and opinion. While our criminal justice system is designed to create an objective atmosphere in which a high burden of proof must be met, there is still always the potential for error and interpretation. Such is life. There are many questions that are difficult to answer and many problems that are difficult to solve with 100% accuracy and consistency. What is important to remember, though, is that reasonable doubt in criminal cases is your right under the Fifth Amendment and that an experienced lawyer can protect your rights.
When facing criminal allegations, you should always be aware that you have a fighting chance when working with a seasoned criminal defense attorney who is capable of creating a defense that negates or casts doubt on the prosecution’s case. If you or your loved one has recently been charged with a crime in the Houston area, feel free to contact a Houston criminal lawyer from Billy Skinner & Associates to learn more about reasonable doubt, your defense, and how the firm can help.