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The Burden of Proof in a Criminal Case

Have you heard the phrase “beyond a reasonable doubt?” You likely have, but may not know what it means or its major implications in the area of criminal law. “Beyond a reasonable doubt” is a burden of proof. This is the burden that must be met in a court of law in order to be successful in whatever you are pursuing. Here, we will discuss the relevant burdens of proof in a criminal case, including “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

The Burden of Proof in a Criminal Case

In general, the prosecution in a criminal case bears the burden of proving each and every element of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt in order to secure a conviction. This is the highest burden of proof and the one the U.S. constitution requires the government to overcome in order to prove guilt on the part of a defendant. While it is a high burden to surmount, it does not mean that the prosecution needs disprove or cast doubt on every single possible circumstance. The prosecution need not eliminate every possible doubt or prove everything to complete certainty.

While the burden of proof falls, for the most part, on the shoulders of the prosecution in a criminal case, once the prosecution has established facts that appear to have satisfied an element of the crime, the burden somewhat shifts to the defense. While the defense may not need to go so far as to disprove a fact, the defense should seek to raise doubts as to the existence or support of those facts. Without casting doubt on facts seemingly established by the prosecution, the risk of conviction remains. The defense’s “burden” to cast doubt on facts asserted by the prosecution, however, is not as stringent as that of the prosecution. You see, a defendant is under no requirement to prove innocence in order to avoid conviction. It may still be in the best interest of the defendant to provide counterpoints to undermine the strength of the prosecution’s case.

In some circumstances, a defendant may assert an affirmative defense. An affirmative defense, essentially, means that the defendant is asserting he or she did, in fact, commit the act which led to the criminal charge, but the act was not criminal because of extenuating circumstances. If an affirmative defense is asserted, the defendant will carry the burden of proof of substantiating that affirmative defense. The burden of proof for an affirmative defense will be set by state law. Usually, the burden of proof for an affirmative defense is by a “preponderance of the evidence.” This is a lesser burden than “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The preponderance of the evidence means that the defendant is more likely than not telling the truth about the affirmative defense. It is more than 50% likely that the defendant is being truthful about the affirmative defense.

San Bernardino Criminal Defense Attorney

Understanding the complexities of criminal law can be difficult, but necessary to understand your rights and what you are up against. The Law Office of Ronald L. Freeman is here to provide you with dedicated and trusted criminal defense counsel. We will answer your questions and get to work right away on fighting whatever criminal charge you may face. Contact us today.