Different Standards of Proof
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A standard of proof refers to the duty of the person responsible for proving the case. There are different standards of proof in different circumstances. The three primary standards of proof are proof beyond a reasonable doubt, preponderance of the evidence and clear and convincing evidence.
Preponderance of the Evidence
This is the lowest standard of proof. It is used primarily in civil proceedings. This standard means that it is more likely than not that the facts are as that which one of the parties claim. In civil cases, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving that all of the legal elements were present in the given case. When deciding whether to rule on behalf of the plaintiff or the defendant, the jury weighs each piece of evidence. Jury instructions often state that the jury can use their own judgment in determining the credibility of each piece of evidence and how much weight to assign to each piece of evidence.
Jurors do not have to be completely convinced of one side. However, the burden requires that the evidence be strong enough that a fair and impartial mind would gravitate toward one side or other other.
Although this standard is primarily used in civil cases, it can be used in some aspects of criminal law. For example, if a defendant wants the court to conclude that he or she is not fit to stand trial, the standard of proof is by the preponderance of the evidence.
Clear and Convincing Evidence
This standard is a step up from the preponderance of the evidence standard. This standard requires that the evidence show that it is highly probable or probably certain that the thing alleged has occurred. This standard may apply to civil cases or some aspects of criminal cases. Some states use this standard to determine whether a search was voluntary.
Proof Beyond a Reasonable Doubt
Proof beyond a reasonable doubt refers to the standard of proof in criminal prosecutions. The prosecutor has the duty to convince the jury by proof beyond a reasonable doubt of each and every element of the crime before a jury should convict a defendant. Because a personís freedom is on the line, the highest standard of proof is used. The United States Supreme Court has specifically stated that it is much worse to convict an innocent person than to allow a guilty one to go free. This standard of proof is specifically required by the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment to the federal United States Constiution.
Proof beyond a reasonable doubt does not mean that there can be absolutely no doubt of the defendantís guilt. A jury begins the process of considering a defendantís guilt or innocence by presuming that the defendant is innocent. This standard is comprised of two equal and important parts: the burden of production and the burden of persuasion. The burden of production requires the prosecution to supply adequate evidence to place a fact in issue. If the prosecution does not aptly satisfy the burden of production, the judge can direct a verdict. The burden of persuasion requires the prosecution to persuade the jury of the veracity of each element.
The burden of proof should be properly explained and extrapolated throughout a criminal prosecution or civil trial. Before a jury is selected, the lawyers for each side take part in a process called voir dire. This is the process used to flesh out any potential biases of the jurors and whether there are any prospective jurors that should not be on the jury.
A criminal defense lawyer or plaintiffís lawyer can discuss the different standards of proof. In criminal cases, the criminal defense lawyer may explain the foundation of the standard and the various functions that this standard serves, such as protecting innocent people from being convicted and holding the prosecution up to the highest standard. In some criminal cases, the defense strategy may be to point out that the prosecution has not met its burden.
In any type of case, a lawyer may base the legal theory around the standard of proof to show why one party has or has not met the burden of establishing this standard. A lawyer can explain to his or her client this information as well so that he or she has a better understanding of the process.
Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.