We all know the phrase “beyond a reasonable doubt.” The prevalence of police procedurals and courtroom dramas makes this a household phrase. But few people really understand what it means for the courts. Beyond a reasonable doubt is more than a saying; it is the standard upon which we determine guilt.

Understanding the burden of proof

In America, the defendant is considered innocent unless and until the prosecution proves their case beyond a reasonable doubt. The burden is on the prosecution to prove that the defendant perpetrated the alleged crime; it is never on the defendant to prove themselves innocent. This burden is very high and can be incredibly complex.

The law requires prosecutors to prove every element of their charge before a jury can declare you guilty. This means that, when looking at a criminal allegation, the prosecution must show each part of the allegation is true. If the criminal code says that a charge requires a person to commit theft and have had a firearm on their person, then it is not enough to just prove that the defendant stole property.

In part, this leads to very selective charges, especially at a federal level where prosecutors have many resources at their disposal.

The evidence

There are two categories of evidence that the prosecutors can use to show their case: direct and circumstantial. evidence would include first-hand witness testimony, medical reports and physical evidence, among other things. Circumstantial evidence would include testimony from witnesses who did not see the crime occur, cell phone tracking and other evidence that implies guilt, but does not originate from the crime itself.

Direct evidence is compelling, but many cases depend heavily on circumstantial evidence. This leaves openings for defense to thrive.

If you are accused of a crime, you should know that relaying this information to the jury is difficult and requires skillful explanations. Find an attorney who will help break down all the elements of the alleged crime and demonstrate all the doubt in your case.