We have all at some point in our lives heard the term "beyond a reasonable doubt" in reference to criminal defense cases, whether it be during a news broadcast or a gripping courtroom drama. But what does this phrase actually mean, and what legal weight does it carry?
"Beyond a reasonable doubt" references the standard that prosecutors must meet in order to convict a defendant of a crime. In order to overcome the presumption that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty, prosecutors must be able to show that no other logical explanation can be gained from the facts except that the accused person committed the crime in question. If a judge or jurors have no doubt in their mind that the defendant did indeed commit the crime, or if their only doubts are unreasonable, the prosecutor will have therefore proven the defendant's guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt," resulting in a guilty verdict.
This legal term helps to establish a moral certainty that no reasonable alternative is possible in a criminal case. This is not to say that a juror cannot have doubts, but rather that their doubts may only be unreasonable in nature.
What Is a Reasonable Doubt?
A reasonable doubt is the highest standard of proof used in criminal trials and is required under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution. This concept is based on the societal value that it is worse to falsely convict and innocent person than to let a guilty person go free.
Reasonable doubt is only applicable in issuing a verdict, not in the submission of evidence. If evidence is to be excluded from a case, the opposing side must only present evidence why the disputed evidence should be omitted, upon which the judge will decide whether or not to exclude it based on the evidence presented.
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