The State's Burden of Proof - What is Beyond a Reasonable Doubt?

"It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffers."

These words, written in 1765 by English judge William Blackstone, stand for the idea that anyone accused of a crime is presumed innocent, and that to find someone guilty the prosecution must prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. More than 250 years later, these words still ring true.

As a Wyoming criminal defense lawyer, it is my job to make sure that my clients are presumed innocent, and that the prosecution meets its burden. This means that if you are accused of a crimeANY crime – my team and I will make sure that the government proves its case, beyond a reasonable doubt, before your life, liberty, or freedom is taken away.

What is beyond a reasonable doubt?

Beyond a reasonable doubt is the highest standard of proof in American legal system. The Constitution requires that the government meet this burden to find someone guilty of committing a crime.

To better understand beyond a reasonable doubt, it helps to look at two other standards that courts may apply: a preponderance of the evidence, and clear and convincing evidence.

  • A preponderance of the evidence means more than 50%. Weighing the evidence, if a judge or jury thinks it is more likely than not that something happened, they can find that fact to be true. Lawyers use the example of two stacks of paper, each with the same number of pages. If one more page is added to one of the stacks, this is a preponderance.
  • Clear and convincing evidence is more than a preponderance. It’s like a 75% chance that someone did or did not do something.
  • Beyond a reasonable doubt is the highest standard in the American legal system. In a criminal case, because the stakes are so high, it is not enough to prove that the defendant is probably guilty. Rather, the prosecution must prove each element of its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

To find a person guilty the prosecution does not need to eliminate all unreasonable doubt that a person did or did not do something, or prove its case to an absolute certainty. This would be impossible because only a witness to a crime can be certain, and even then, witnesses can make mistakes.

Rather, beyond a reasonable doubt requires that, after considering all the evidence, the judge or jury can only come to one conclusion, and that is that the defendant is indeed guilty.

To make certain that the prosecution meets this burden, my team and I work hard to protect your rights by challenging the evidence against you, fighting to have any illegally obtained evidence excluded from the proceedings, and trying to reduce the penalties or even have your case thrown out of court.

Does the defendant need to prove he or she did not commit a crime?

Because the prosecution has the burden of proof, a defendant does not need to prove anything. In fact, I often tell juries that the defendant's lawyer could go through an entire trial without questioning a single witness or presenting a single piece of evidence and that if, at the end of the trial, the jury found that the prosecution did not meets its burden, the defendant would go free.

Of course, as an experienced Wyoming criminal defense lawyer and a former prosecutor, I would never do that. But I use that explanation to make the point that a defendant does not need to prove anything. The burden rests entirely with the prosecution.

Accused of a crime in Wyoming? Contact Just Criminal Law Today

If you have been accused of a crime in Wyoming, you need a team of experienced criminal defense professionals that you can trust. Don't delay. Contact Just Criminal Law today.

Based in Gillette, Wyoming, Just Criminal Law represents people in Northeast Wyoming and Western South Dakota. Call 307-686-6560, email, or complete our online form, to schedule a free initial consultation.

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this article is offered for educational purposes only. This information is not offered as legal advice. A person accused of a crime should always consult with an attorney before making decisions that have legal consequences.