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During a full trial, prosecutors must prove “beyond a reasonable doubt” that the defendant committed the crime. When jurors determine their verdict of guilt, they have to do so beyond a reasonable doubt.
But what does that really mean? Does it mean more than meets the eye? And who is to say what “beyond reasonable” is?
WHAT IS BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT?
Before prosecutors present their cases, jurors are informed about how to decide on the case. Determining guilt beyond a reasonable doubt protects everyone involved, including the jurors, the defendant, the attorneys, and even the taxpayers who are paying for the cost of the trial.
Clearly, the rule exists to ensure innocent people aren’t sent to prison, but it also provides some peace of mind for the jurors and anyone else involved in the case.
In order to show beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the crime, the prosecutor’s “burden of proof” is based on several principles:
• Reasonable and Articulable Suspicion:
This is focused more on law enforcement officers’ initial reason for stopping the individual. It can’t be simply a hunch; officers must have a clear reason for stopping the individual.
• Probable Cause:
A sufficient reason to believe a crime has been committed should be based on facts. An individual should not be arrested without probable cause being established.
• Preponderance of the Evidence:
The weight of testimony that may reveal the truth of the case is considered. This is about quality over quantity.
• Clear and Convincing Evidence:
The evidence must be highly and substantially more likely to be true than untrue.
While beyond a reasonable doubt can be subjective, the four other burdens are more objective, although they can be debated as well. A case that solidly presents the first four therefore may culminate in the ultimate conclusion of guilt.
THE TRIAL PROCESS
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