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Understanding the Burden of Proof in Criminal Cases

Understanding the Burden of Proof in Criminal CasesThe U.S. has a court system that is meant to protect the accused as well as the accuser. An accusation must have some merit in order for the court to allow the case, and the prosecutor or plaintiff must prove why the defendant is guilty of or liable for the accusation. The burden of proof is one of the key concepts behind “innocent until proven guilty,” but different levels of proof are required depending on the type of case, including:

  • A preponderance of the evidence
  • Clear and convincing evidence
  • Evidence beyond a reasonable doubt

Criminal cases require the highest burden of proof because defendants have the most at stake if they are convicted.

A Preponderance of the Evidence

In most civil cases, the plaintiff must prove their claim by a preponderance of the evidence, meaning it is more likely than not that the plaintiff’s claim is accurate. The judge or jury may not have the evidence to dismiss either sides’ argument but only needs to determine which argument is more plausible. Courts allow this standard of proof in civil cases because the defendant is not faced with the threat of imprisonment. If the court finds in favor of the plaintiff, the defendant’s punishment will be financial, such as paying medical bills for an injury or replacing lost property or wages.

Clear and Convincing Evidence

Some civil cases have more than money at stake, such as parental rights or whether to issue an order of protection. Courts may use a higher standard of proof called clear and convincing evidence. This standard means that the plaintiff must prove that their claims are highly probable to be true. There is room for some doubt about the plaintiff’s claims, but the judge or jury must be almost certain that they are true.

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

The strongest standard is proving a claim beyond a reasonable doubt, meaning that there is no reasonable explanation for what occurred other than the claim. Criminal cases use this standard because the defendant may face:

  • Imprisonment
  • Probation
  • Loss of civil privileges
  • A criminal record that may limit their job and housing options

Proving that a defendant committed a crime beyond a reasonable doubt does not mean that all doubt has been erased. Starting from the position that the defendant is innocent, the judge or jury must be convinced that no reasonable person could come to a conclusion other than the defendant’s guilt.

Contact a DuPage County Criminal Defense Attorney

With the prosecution’s high burden of proof, the defense will try to find a plausible alternative explanation of the evidence or create doubt about the accuracy of the evidence. A Wheaton, Illinois, criminal defense lawyer at Stephen A. Brundage, Attorney at Law, will examine your case and come up with a winning strategy. Schedule a consultation by calling 630-260-9647.

Source:

https://www.uscourts.gov/about-federal-courts/types-cases/criminal-cases

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