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The Burden of Proof

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The American justice system is premised on the idea that it is better to let 100 guilty men go free than to incarcerate one innocent man. For this reason, the courts have established that the burden of proof in a criminal case to be “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” This burden of proof is the responsibility of the prosecution to prove. A prosecutor has to confirm this standard to convince a judge or jury that a defendant is guilty of the crime for which he is charged. If the prosecution does not meet this lofty standard, the judge or jury should rule that a defendant is “not guilty.”

Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

In order for the prosecution to succeed in proving its case, it must prove that every element of a crime was committed by the defendant with proof beyond a reasonable doubt. There is no quantifying standard for this burden. In other words, proof beyond a reasonable doubt does not mean that every member of a jury is 90 percent or even 100 percent sure of the facts. Instead, it means that the jury members would rely on and act upon this information without hesitation if they were in the defendant’s position. It does not require that the jury members be absolutely certain of the defendant’s guilt.

Elements of a Crime

Every crime has a variety of elements that the prosecution must prove. If there are three elements, and the prosecution only proves two out of the three with proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the judge or jury has reason to rule in the defendant’s favor. One element that the prosecution must typically prove is that the defendant, and not another individual, committed the acts that comprise the crime. In some cases, a defendant’s failure to act constitutes the crime itself. For example, failing to protect one’s child is a criminal offense. Another element that the prosecution must usually prove is the defendant’s requisite intent. The statutory language of an offense explains whether the defendant must act purposely, knowingly, recklessly or negligently. If the defendant did not have the required intent as specified by the statute, the judge or jury must rule in his favor.

Defense Burdens of Proof

After the prosecution puts on its case, the defendant’s attorney can ask for a directed verdict if he believes that the prosecution has failed to meet its burden. If the judge rules against this motion, the defendant’s attorney can put on his own defense. The prosecution then has the burden to disprove it. The defendant may assert an affirmative defense, such as self-defense, which requires that he provides evidence to support his claim as an excuse for the crime.

To learn more about the burden of proof, reach out to Houston criminal defense lawyer Brett Podolosky at 713-227-0087.

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