This article was written by the law offices of Aaron Wallenstein, a NYC DWI Lawyer.
Reasonable doubt plays a fundamental role in all United States criminal trials. In essence, it requires the prosecuting attorney to prove that the defendant is guilty without any reasonable doubt. It is the main determining factor that juries must consider when finding a defendant guilty or innocent. It is also the main thing that defense attorneys attempt to create when they are defending their client in a court of law. By intent, the burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt lies on the prosecution. This is because criminal penalties are more severe than civil penalties and so the defendant is considered to be innocent until they are proven guilty.
Reasonable Doubt Isn’t 100 Percent Convinced
Proving reasonable doubt does not mean that the jury must be 100 percent certain that the defendant committed the crime. They may still have some doubt but must be convinced that the majority of the evidence points to the defendant’s guilt. Unlike in a criminal case, attorneys in civil cases do not have to prove reasonable doubt in order to obtain a guilty judgment. In fact, in many civil cases, defendants are found guilty even though they were found innocent in the criminal trial. In civil cases, prosecutors only have to provide a preponderance of evidence that supports a defendant’s guilt.
Confusion Over the Meaning of Reasonable Doubt
The confusion over the term “reasonable doubt” stems from the fact that while there is a definition, that definition is not very clear. The law states that to convict the defendant a reasonable person must be convinced without a reasonable doubt. That creates the question of “who is a reasonable person?” It also creates the question of “what is reasonably convinced?” While judges often read the definition of reasonable doubt to a jury before they deliberate, they can’t elaborate further on what exactly it means. This has led to many debates at the state and federal level as to whether the term “reasonable doubt” requires a clearer definition.
A Valuable Defense Tool
Creating reasonable doubt is a valuable technique used by defense attorneys. They will often try to introduce theories about other people or discredit the prosecution’s witnesses in order to create confusion and doubt in the jury.