You’ve probably heard this before, but every defendant in this country is presumed “innocent until proven guilty.” But, what exactly does it take to prove someone guilty of a crime.
At every stage of a criminal investigation, the authorities have certain restraints on their behavior. They cannot make a traffic stop for drunk driving, for example, without having a reasonable suspicion that the driver is somehow impaired. They cannot make an arrest unless they have probable cause – a much higher standard – to believe that a crime has been committed.
And, finally, they cannot secure a conviction until the prosecution has proved the defendant’s guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is the highest legal standard of all.
What does that mean, in practical terms?
These are not just platitudes that get repeated. The idea that someone is innocent until they’re proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt is actually an imperative in the law. It means:
- The fact that a defendant was indicted and/or arrested for a crime means nothing and cannot be construed as evidence of their guilt at trial.
- The fact that a defendant was confined to jail pending the outcome of their trial (if they were not granted bail or unable to afford it) also cannot be weighed against them.
- In order to secure a conviction, the prosecution most prove every element of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt, not just some of them.
- The defendant is not required to show proof of their innocence. In fact, defendants are not even required to provide a defense or any evidence at all.
- It does not mean that the prosecution has to prove every element of the crime and the defendant’s involvement beyond all doubt, however. Yet, they must prove their case in a way that speaks to the jury’s reason and common sense, and eliminate any doubt that would logically make reasonable people hesitant to convict.
Understanding where reasonable doubt can be raised is an important part of any criminal defense. If you’re in trouble with the law, make sure that you have experienced legal guidance by your side.